Farrah Richards, Winner Nelson, 2024

1 July 2024

Innovation a drawcard for Nelson winner

Farrah Richards had plans to study medicine when she left school until a stint on an orchard changed her career path and at 21, she has been named Nelson Young Grower of the Year.

It is her first year in the annual competition, and she admits she was a bit apprehensive as her role at Fairfield Orchards near Riwaka is very much packhouse based, meaning she needed some last-minute study on everything outside in the orchard.

“It was a bit of a two-week boot camp, to be fair. I was just hoping I wouldn’t have to drive a tractor.

“So, I felt I was in a little bit over my head.”

Seven contestants from around the region were faced with practical and theory modules through the day, from irrigation, soils and nutrition, pest and disease, through to biosecurity and risk mitigation. At the evening part of the competition, they put their thinking caps on again for a general horticulture quiz and then a speech on the topic of whether or not to cut costs if they were in charge of finance for a horticulture business.

Farrah only recently celebrated her 21st birthday and said her win was “quite a cool present”.

She stepped into horticulture three years ago in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, when she decided to spend a couple of months on her auntie and uncle’s orchard – Aaron and Cherie Drummond. Instead of a short stint, she discovered a whole new career she had never contemplated. Plus, she says she didn’t like the idea of a huge debt after years in medical school.

“I came into the packhouse and I just love it. We’ve got a fairly new automated packhouse. There’s robotic packers and stackers and we’ve got the Tomra grading system with AI. So, it’s a great opportunity.

“I did my first year in the old packhouse and then my second year it was all new to everyone which was quite exciting.”

Farrah says her job revolves around documentation and packaging, or as she likes to tell people: “I do the stuff that’s not the apple”.

“I’m constantly walking around the packhouse.”

Her speech on the night of the competition focused on innovation rather than cutting costs in the industry and as she later said, that was the way forward.

“In our business, we’re pretty thin on our costs – what we focus on is automation. For us in our business, this is where it is at to keep growing. Automation decreases labour which is a huge cost and it attracts more people like myself who are enthusiastic about technology, instead of people who turn up just because it’s a job.

“Automation can improve the quality of our product because we’re all human and make mistakes. It has more consistency for our customers which hopefully results in greater returns for our growers.”

Second place in the Nelson competition went to Lian Price from JS Ewers, while third placegetter was Calab Aasen from Connings.