• EIT graduates excel in Hawke’s Bay Young Fruit Grower of the Year

EIT graduates excel in Hawke’s Bay Young Fruit Grower of the Year

EIT’s strong horticulture programmes proved their worth again with two graduates finishing on the podium at this year’s highly acclaimed Hawke’s Bay Young Fruit Grower of the Year Competition.

Liam Sykes, who came in second place, was the inaugural recipient of the Kaimahi Award presented to the finalist who displayed professionalism, integrity, and true leadership qualities throughout the course of the competition. Fellow EIT graduate Corey Simpkin came third.

The two, who had never competed before, missed out on the top prize to 25-year-old T&G Global orchard foreman, who won the competition for the second time.

The competition, which EIT is a partner sponsor of, has been running since 2005 and originated from a need to support and to encourage young horticulturists to progress a career in the industry. The six winners of the regional competitions go on to compete at the national Young Grower of the Year competition in Wellington later this year.

Held over two days at Showgrounds Hawke’s Bay, competitors completed a series of challenges and presented a prepared speech to guests at a dinner event last Friday.

Liam completed his National Certificate in Horticulture, Level 4 Fruit Production at EIT’s Hawke’s Bay’s Campus in Taradale in 2017 and is currently Assistant Manager of Fresh Co’s Riverside block, Puketapu, where he manages 40 hectares of high-intensity planting (11,000 trees p/ha).

He missed out on first place by three points but won four out of the eight challenges, as well as the speech. Competing was a chance for him to put himself to the test, experience something new, and meet different people.

Liam says studying at EIT gave him the drive to keep pursuing the industry.

“It was a really broad spectrum of what is involved in growing apples and the science and technicalities involved.” He was also able to meet like-minded people.

He now hopes to continue to improve his skills.

“It’s now about improving on what I already do know and learning because there is so much to learn in the industry so I am just trying to take every opportunity I can get to keep bettering myself.”

Corey, who is Orchard Foreman on the Brookfield Block for Mr Apple, said he went into the competition wanting to do the best he could and is grateful to have placed third.

He says a change in career from panel beating to horticulture has been his most rewarding decision to date. As a third-generation orchardist, Corey is hungry to progress his career in horticulture and utilise the experience and knowledge of those around him to do so.

He was awarded the Horticulture NZ Industry Training Scholarship in 2018 and graduated from EIT in 2019. He says the programme taught him the why behind the how.

Hawke's Bay Fruitgrowers' Association President Richard Pentreath, said overall the competition was exceptionally close this year with only three points between Regan and the runner-up, Liam Sykes.

“The calibre of entrants was high this year and all the contestants displayed true tenacity and determination throughout the entire competition.”

Of the eight finalists, five studied at EIT’s Hawke’s Bay’s Campus in Taradale. Gordon Reid, Horticulture Trainee Programme Coordinator, says he is very proud of his graduates.

"It is an affirmation of our programmes that our graduates can do what the qualifications deem they should be able to do.

"There’s a big range of skills that are tested, including making the speech but also lots of practical skills, so it says to us that our graduates are actually performing at a suitably higher level."