After taking out Horticulture New Zealand’s Young Grower of the Year, Erin Atkinson is one of five contestants about to compete for the Young Horticulturist title next week, and credits her success to her humble beginnings on Franklin soil.
Erin is the technical adviser for ApataGrow, a kiwifruit and avocado pack house and coolstore in the Bay of Plenty. However, her journey into the horticultural sector first began in her Year 10 Rural Studies class at Pukekohe High School.
“It wasn’t until I was in Year 13, when my horticulture teacher really encouraged me to pursue it,” says Erin.
Balancing a job with the former Status Produce Ltd (now T&G Global), Erin went on to complete Bachelor of Science in Horticultural Science from Massey University.
However, she says that the experience from working in the tomato glass houses really complimented her studies.
“They gave me a job during school holidays, and from there, I went from picking tomatoes to managing 3.6 hectares of glasshouses.”
After staying with them for a further two years, Erin made the move overseas, where she found her skills and qualifications easily transferable and recognized globally.
Spending time working in London, she was offered a role in the Netherlands.
“They are leaders in glasshouse technology, and I really enjoyed my time there.”
Upon returning home, Erin decided to focus on the technical aspect of the sector. From working at a culinary herb business in Waiuku, to a landscaping consultant for Auckland Council, Erin continued to hone her broad range of skills before settling into her role as technical advisor for ApataGrow.
“My role is quite broad, but consists of helping out growers to manage harvest and I’m in charge of the technical extension programme, which sees taking what the industry practices are and feeding them out to our growers. I help with orchard management, health and safety and compliance and I get to deal with a really wide range of people. I am really enjoying it.”
This is the second time Erin has entered the Young Horticulturist competition, and after coming a respectable third last year, she has her sights set on taking out the title in next week’s finals.
“I am going to give it everything. But overall, this has been an amazing opportunity. I have developed networks which couldn’t be achieved if I hadn’t.”
Contestants from Pukekohe seem to have a record of great results, with last year’s winner, Andrew Hutchinson, also hailing from Pukekohe.
The Awards Dinner will be held on Thursday 16 November at the Auckland Grand Millennium Hotel.