Maatu Akonga, assistant manager at T&G Global, took out the title of 2022 Hawke’s Bay Young Fruit Grower of the Year on Friday night.
Maatu vied against six other contestants in a series of theoretical and practical modules designed to exercise their skills and knowledge on pruning, manual handling, health and safety, export market requirements, quality control and more.
“I feel very humbled and honoured to have won,” says Maatu. “I learnt a lot from each module, identified skills that I could improve on and challenged myself.
“My colleagues and mentors encouraged me to enter the competition and I’m glad I did. It has given me the opportunity to see where I am at in my career and to grow my skills further.”
Maatu says meeting other young growers was the highlight of the competition.
“The other contestants were great,” says Maatu. “I’ve built some good friendships and developed industry connections with a range of companies too.
“For those that are thinking about entering the competition, I would say, step outside your comfort zone – you never know what you could achieve.”
HortNZ chief executive, Nadine Tunley, says the competition is a valuable opportunity to support the next generation of growers to further their careers.
“Our young growers are the future leaders of our industry,” says Nadine. “These competitions help young growers test their limits and realise their full potential. They also provide exceptional professional development and networking opportunities.
“Contestants walk away with greater confidence, new skills and connections and a boost to their horticulture career pathway.”
Nadine says extreme weather events, a global pandemic and increasing red tape have made the past couple of years particularly tough for growers.
“That’s why being able to hold events such as the Young Grower of the Year again is important. They are an opportunity for us to come together, catch up, celebrate our young growers’ success and foster growth and resilience in our sector,” says Nadine.
President of the Hawke’s Bay Fruitgrowers’ Association, Brydon Nisbet, says the calibre of this year’s contestants was impressive.
“The passion and expertise on display has been excellent and the contestants’ speeches were outstanding,” says Brydon. “This demonstrates the tremendous potential of our young people in a rapidly changing industry.
“Choosing to enter the Young Fruit Grower competition and testing themselves with their peers is courageous in itself and I applaud all the contestants for that.
“Our industry sees the value of the competition, particularly the dividends it pays for each contestant’s career.
“Thanks once again to all our generous sponsors. Without your support we simply could not run this event to recognise emerging talent in our region.”
Maatu will compete for his share of $30,000 in prizes at the National Young Grower of the Year final in Nelson on September 21 – 22.