For the second year in a row, there are two winners of the Young Vegetable Grower of the year competition, with Austin Singh Purewal and Craig Botting both being crowned champions at a gala dinner in Pukekohe last night.
The day-long competition saw entrants compete in a series of practical and theoretical challenges designed to test the skills needed to run a successful vegetable growing business, from squash and onion quality control to tractor proficiency. The awards were finalised after a speech competition last night, where the seven contestants spoke about growing in a climate of change.
Austin has worked in the family business Purewal Growers Ltd for most of his life, where he carries out harvesting, transport, staff management, sales, irrigation, and seeding duties. Austin has completed NCEA L3 Agriculture/Horticulture, holds a Growsafe Certificate and an Approved Handler Certification, and is passionate about helping to create future leaders in the horticulture industry, and supporting them throughout their careers.
"It’s a night of mixed emotions, and I’m still a bit shellshocked" said Austin, whose speech focused heavily on mental health support in growing. "I’m pleased to have won such a great competition with Craig, and it was great to be part of such a friendly event.
"The more us young ones in the industry look after and support each other, the stronger we’ll become, and hopefully more will come in and realise how great it is to be a grower."
Craig is the planting supervisor and tractor operator at Scott Fresh Ltd, and grew up on a sheep and beef farm in South Otago, so is relatively new to the horticulture sector. His role at Scott Fresh involves ground preparation and maintaining healthy crops with the correct fertilising and spraying programs. He holds a Diploma in Agriculture from Lincoln University, and entered the competition to try new things, and broaden his depth of knowledge.
"I’m pretty new to growing, so winning this is huge for me", said Craig, who also won the individual award for best practical expertise. "It’s been a great experience, I’m so pleased to have won, and it’s definitely something I’ll be telling others to try out."
"A special thanks go to Scott Wilcox, the Young Vege Grower in 2017, for his support and encouraging me to give it a go."
Pravin Hari, president of the Pukekohe Vegetable Growers Association, says this is one of the best Young Vege contests he's seen.
"These young guys have done the industry proud, and are a great example of why we run this competition. Young Grower gives our people a chance to shine, and this is easily one of the best bunches of entrants we’ve ever had."
"Here’s hoping this isn’t the last we see of the runners-up either, it was a really excellent group. As you can probably tell, since two of them won the whole event. "
Horticulture New Zealand president Barry O’Neil expressed congratulations to the winners, and stressed the importance of encouraging other young people to "have a go".
"This was a well-deserved win, and indeed all seven of the contestants were truly outstanding. We know we have a shortage of workers in horticulture we need to address, and it is just as important to recognise and upskill the talent we already have in our industry, so it’s great to see that recognised.
"We really are in a climate of change at the moment, and I for one feel secure seeing future leaders like this stepping up to the plate. There are plenty more where these fine young growers came from; at this rate we’re going to have to start another vegetable competition just to keep up with all the talent."
The Young Vegetable Grower of the Year competition was run by the Pukekohe Vegetable Growers Association, in association with Horticulture New Zealand, and was supported by the Horticentre Charitable Trust, South Pacific Seeds, Enza Zden, Ballance, and more.
Austin and Craig, together with five regional Young Fruit Growers, will go on to compete for the final Young Grower of the Year 2019 title in Tauranga on 01 October. For more information, visit www.younggrower.co.nz.