Region’s top young growers vie for title

Aaron Wright, Danni Van der Heijden, Hamish McKain, Levi Smith and Rockelle Kerkmeester. Photos: Supplied.

Six of the region’s top young horticulturalists go head to head in a series of events at this year’s Te Puke A&P Show on February 10 as part of the 2018 Young Grower of the Year competition.

The day-long event is the first round in the contest and will be followed by a speech competition during a gala dinner at ASB Arena on Thursday, February 15, where the overall winner is also announced.

Award-winning comedian Ben Hurley, widely recognised from his regular appearances on TV3’s 7Days, for which he is also head writer, has been confirmed as MC for the Gala Dinner.

Tickets are available on line at

The entrants in this year’s BOP Young Grower of the Year contest are:

Aaron Wright, 27, regional manager, EastPack, Te Puke. Growing up on a kiwifruit orchard, Aaron developed a passion for horticulture at a young age and has earned a degree in horticulture from Massey University.  Prior to his current role, Aaron spent four years managing a large portfolio of orchards. He now manages the Te Puke Prospa Orchard Management team, the Prospa Spray Division Team and 30ha of kiwifruit. In 2017, Aaron fulfilled a childhood dream and now owns his own kiwifruit orchard in Te Puke.

Danni van der Heijden, 24, avocado services, Trevelyan’s Pack & Cool, Tauranga. She has a Bachelor of Science majoring in biology and chemistry. Danni’s responsibilities at Trevelyan’s include grower technical support, data analysis and reporting, mapping, undertaking research trials and avocado nursery support. At Trevelyan’s, her role has seen her use data and technology in new ways to help growers, which she finds hugely rewarding. Danni is passionate about coming up with new ideas to move her team forward and enjoys the thrill of taking on new challenges.

Hamish McKain, 27, avocado manager/production manager, DMS, Te Puna. Hamish works as a manager in both kiwifruit production and avocado harvest and has a Bachelor of Management Studies majoring in marketing and human resources from the University of Waikato. Having grown up surrounded by the horticulture industry, Hamish has always had a passion for horticulture and is currently part of a team working to change health and safety culture for the benefit of staff and contractors. Hamish is excited about what the future holds within such a rapidly developing industry.

Levi Smith, 22, assistant production manager, Trinity Lands Kiwifruit Orchard based in Maketu. Levi has been working towards a diploma in horticulture through Lincoln University and will graduate in April. Levi is responsible for a range of activities including canopy management, team management and machine operations. Having been raised on a dairy farm and switching to horticulture in 2013, Levi is thoroughly invested in the industry and strives to find new ways to improve overall production and job satisfaction for both himself and his co-workers.

Rishi Preet Singh, 28, Orchard Manager Seeka Ltd, Te Puke. Rishi Preet holds a National Certificate in Horticulture Level 4 and a Diploma in Horticulture Level 5. Prior to his management role at Seeka, Rishi Preet began his career as an orchard worker and has been working hard, advancing to a crop management role and then on again to become an orchard manager. Rishi Preet also has experience growing orchids and avocados and is passionate about growing kiwifruit plants and passing his knowledge and expertise onto the new staff members that he trains.

Rochelle Kerkmeester, 26, quality controller Apata Group Ltd, Te Puna. Rochelle is currently working towards a Level 4 Horticulture Certificate and holds both Growsafe and Approved Handlers Certificates. Having been born and raised on an orchard, kiwifruit has always been in Rochelle’s DNA and since 2015, in conjunction with Horticare Services, Rochelle has been managing her family’s orchard which she believes to be her greatest achievement.  Rochelle is constantly looking for new ways to broaden her skillset and implement new techniques to improve orchard practises.


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