Meryn Whitehead, a 28-year-old supervisor at Vailima Orchard, has taken out the 2022 Nelson Young Grower of the Year title.
There was a strong wahine presence this year, with three women out of four competitors competing at the event. Contestants participated in a series of practical and theoretical modules that tested their first aid skills, pest and disease identification, tractor operation and more.
Meryn says being part of the competition, particularly with such a strong line up of talent, was an amazing experience.
“This year was definitely a celebration of the growing number of women involved in and joining the horticulture industry,” says Meryn. “To be part of that and to be named the 2022 winner is a real privilege.
“This is the second year that I’ve entered the Nelson competition. I love a challenge so thought I would give the competition another go this year.
“There are so many career opportunities for people of all ages in this industry. The competition really helps to highlight those opportunities and the talent among us.
“Regardless of whether you win these competitions, you walk away with great connections, greater confidence and a boost to your career.”
Horticulture New Zealand chief executive, Nadine Tunley, says the exceptional calibre of entrants seen year after year highlights the value of the Young Grower competitions.
“As the emerging leaders of our industry, it is invaluable to have an environment where young growers are supported to realise their full potential,” says Nadine. “The Young Grower competitions provide personal and professional development opportunities, confidence building and the tools and networks for our young growers to forge a successful career path for themselves.
“It is clear from the talent on display today that the industry has a bright future”
It has been a difficult year for growers who have faced extreme weather events, the continued effects of the pandemic and labour shortages. Nadine says these recent challenges have made events such as the Young Grower of the Year competition even more important.
“It’s an opportunity for industry to come together, catch up, celebrate our young growers’ success and foster growth and resilience in our sector,” says Nadine. “It’s great to see industry come together in support and recognition of the next generation’s achievements.”
Nelson Young Grower organiser, Richard Clarkson, says it’s great to see so many new and returning candidates enter the competition.
“It doesn’t matter what level of experience the contestants have, the day is all about their growth,” Richard says. “It’s not about coming first or second, it’s about developing people. If we don’t develop the young growers coming through this industry, then we won’t have any future leaders.
“There are so many opportunities, roles and career pathways in this industry for all walks of life. It’s great to see these young growers using the competition as a tool to tap into that potential.”
Meryn will go on to represent the Nelson growing community in the national Young Grower of the Year final in Nelson on 21 - 22 September, where she will vie against other regional finalists for the grand title.