New Zealand’s Young Grower of the Year Kevin McInnes is the apple of his boss’s eye.
The inaugural winner of the title, Kevin is equally chuffed to be working for orchardist C A Wake. He’s been with the Hastings company for three and a half years now, and says his success isn’t going to change that any time soon.
With no previous experience of orchard work, Kevin’s entrée to the industry was somewhat unconventional.
He left Karamu High School at the end of sixth form uncertain about where he wanted to head his life. It was his mature manner working at a local supermarket that impressed Gary Wake, on the lookout for good staff to work on C A Wake’s 80 hectares of orchard.
“I went into the supermarket two or three times and stood at the back of the queue observing Kevin,” Gary recalls. “I liked the way he dealt with adults. He was pretty confident and he sounded keen about the prospect of a job.”
Kevin accepted Gary’s offer to join the company and take on a cadetship. “It seems to have turned out pretty well,” the level-headed 21-year-old says.
Kevin completed the field-based Certificate in Horticulture last year, polishing up on the theoretical aspects of growing at EIT Hawke’s Bay.
Programme coordinator Gordon Reid describes the graduate as an engaging young man and a very good practitioner on the St Georges Road orchard.
“I was on the property when they left him to get on with pruning a block of trees. They obviously trusted him to do a good job.”
Equally enthusiastic about his former tutor, Kevin says: “That man deserves a pay rise – he’s a good sort!”
Attending EIT 10-12 days a week for three years, Kevin appreciates the value of his class work. “They do a pretty good job over there,” he says.
EIT’s flexible schedule accommodated the demands of harvest, and he enjoyed meeting new people on campus.
“The quality of the people going through the course is good as well.”
Gary Wake is equally convinced about the value of the training.
“EIT ‘s is a very good course, very thorough. We’re very lucky actually to have Norm Miller (Modern Apprenticeship Coordinator for the New Zealand Horticulture Industry Training Organisation) working hard to promote it.
“A few years ago the spunky industry was wine, everyone wanted to be in wine. Norm struggled to get people motivated with fruit. He stuck with it and we’re seeing the payoff now.”
More than 70 trainees are going through the cadetship programme, with this year’s intake alone topping 40.
“It’s a reasonable financial cost to the business to send them off to do training,” Gary says, “but it’s a win-win scenario.”
Kevin’s achievement as the inaugural winner of the recent Young Grower of the Year competition confirms that view.
Held in tandem with the Horticulture New Zealand Conference in Christchurch, the event covered a range of horticulture and business tasks. Kevin had to drive a tractor, grade tomatoes and assemble an irrigation system. He also addressed more than 400 delegates attending the conference.
Competition judge and Horticulture NZ president Andrew Fenton says Kevin was a standout entry.
“For someone so young, he demonstrated impressive technical and business skills. He is a young leader for our industry, someone to watch.”