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Growing lad talks hort’

While a co-worker may have opened the door to the Young Horticulturalist of the Year competition last year, it’s Andrew Hutchinson who’ll be stepping up to make a play for the prestigious title soon, as he discussed with JON RAWLINSON.

Andrew Hutchinson – sights set on Young Horticulturist of the Year. Photo Wayne Martin

Andrew Hutchinson leads a hunter-gatherer existence, albeit with a modern twist. Aged 28, the Young Grower of the Year (who works in a technical support role for AS Wilcox & Sons’ potato supply team) is equally at home on land or all at sea.

“I dabble in a bit of deer hunting, but I’m mainly into kayak fishing. I head over to Maraetai a lot, or to the Coromandel even Northland when I have a bit more time,” the Waiuku resident confirms. “So, I guess that means not only can I grow the chips, but I catch the fish to go with them too!”

As reported in Rural Living’s July-August issue, since claiming the Young Veggie Grower and Young Grower of the Year titles, Andrew has his sights set on winning Young Horticulturalist of the Year 2016.

In November, he will compete against competitors from a range of industry sectors in efforts to claim horticulture’s most converted prize.

“It would be awesome to win. There’s a lot of preparation I need to do but I think I have some good ideas. I just need to get stuck into it.

“Even though [competitors are] all involved in horticulture, what the apple guys and kiwi fruit growers are doing is quite different to potatoes, but there are some core similarities too. Ultimately, it’ll all depend on how the competition stacks up on the day.”

Although his co-worker (Hamish Gates, who reached the same stage last year) is now overseas, Andrew says his experience of the competition process has proved most useful.

“Hamish gave me a hand preparing for Young Grower. He was quite helpful with my speech preparation and gave me advice on the innovation project – which is for a Dragon’s Den style part of the competition. I managed to win that section which was great.

“If I go one better than he did and win Young Horticulturalist, I don’t think I’ll have to [call him to gloat], I’m sure he’ll be watching! Hamish will want to know how well I do and I’m sure he’ll be cheering for me.”

Originally from Tauranga, Andrew gained a degree in Applied Science (majoring in horticulture) at Massey University in Palmerston North. After a couple of years working back in the Bay, he joined Pukekohe-based AS Wilcox & Sons. However, the then packhouse supervisor was soon packing his bags again.

“My partner, Emma Sixsmith [a teacher at Glenbrook School], and I went backpacking in South East Asia for about five months. Although it wasn’t a big part of the trip, I looked at orchards and growing operations along the way. Overall, it was a great experience and a real confidence-builder,” he says.

On his return last year, Andrew was soon welcomed back into the AS Wilcox fold.
“The company wanted me back and created a position for me, so it’s a developing role. Basically, I work for the potato crop manager. It involves trial work – from fertiliser to planting and the agronomy of new varieties.

“For example, I’ve been heavily involved with the Inca Gold. We’ve developed it into the best roasted spud you could ever eat; it’s crunchy, full of flavour and tastes like it’s had butter injected into it already.”

While he’s aware that the Young Horticulturalist title could lead to fresh opportunities, Andrew appears content to set down roots with Wilcox. He says the company is well aware that it can only reap what it sows.

“It’s quite common for people to be headhunted after competitions like these, but as long as there’s room to grow, and I’m enjoying my job, there’s no need to move on,” Andrew confirms.

“One of the company’s mottos is: ‘we grow people too.’ In business, you get out what you put in. Wilcox is great at identifying talent and they’ve been wonderful in helping me develop my career.”

Although no further pop-ups are planned at this stage, thanks to the success of the collective so far, Damian confirms they may soon regain a place on his menu.

JON RAWLINSON

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