Changes on front line

By Doug Laing

An eight-year stint at the forefront of a shake-up in leadership of the New Zealand horticultural industry came to an end when Central Hawke's Bay asparagus grower and businesswoman Debbie Hewitt stood down from the board of Horticulture New Zealand.

Hewitt, who with husband Hamish farms a 40ha block on the Porangahau Rd outskirts of Waipukurau along with a livestock business, was a founding director when the organisation was established in 2005 as a battlefront merger for vegetable and fruitgrowing interests.

It represents about 7000 commercial vegetable, fruit and berryfruit growers.

Hewitt is yet another in a long line of Hawke's Bay-based national farming and horticultural leaders over the years, including Federated Farmers president Bruce Wills, of Te Pohue, and Beef + Lamb chairman and new agriculture special trade envoy Mike Petersen, also from Waipukurau.

Significantly, she notes, all three are graduates of the Kellogg Rural Leaders Programme.

She comes with a long line of credits, stemming mainly from her original involvement with the Hawke's Bay Asparagus Grower Association and being a member of its national committee, as well as chairing its promotional sector.

Among other posts have been directorship of HortNZ's Charitable Trust, chairing the Horticulture Industry Vision $10 billion by 2020 Taskforce, and closer to home, she's a member of the Infracon board.

She has a Masters degree majoring in Agribusiness Management from Lincoln University, has also graduated in the Executive Development Programme and Food & Agribusiness Market Experience (Fame), as well as completing an Institute of Directors Company Directors Course.

The highlights were setting industry goals, the $10 billion by 2020 Taskforce work, working with Deloittes and seeing the alignment of the Crown Research Institute (Plant and Food), industry training organisations and academic institutions development goals with those of Hort NZ.

Her Fame role, joining studies underwritten by the Agricultural and Marketing Research and Development Trust, took her throughout the world in 2007 and 2008, involving study trips to the US and Europe, and then China and Japan.

She returned urging all people in the food industries to join forces to "tell their stories" to the world.

More recently she has become involved in the water storage issues of Hawke's Bay and is independent chairperson of the Ruataniwha Water Storage stakeholders group.

She is also chairing the water proposal's Socio-Economic Working Party, a joint initiative of the Hawke's Bay regional Council and its investment company, the Central Hawke's Bay District Council and CHB Maori authority Te Taiwhenua o Tamatea, and drawing input from other organisations managing change.

Saying her involvement in establishing and developing Horticulture New Zealand was a "great opportunity", she believes the organisation has "absolutely" achieved its founding goals, which included better uniting industry sectors, and she has now identified new challenges and also wants to focus on her business interests.

Mother of a son and two daughters - one a graduate, another at university and another at high school - Hewitt has been a commercial asparagus and seasonal vegetable grower for 12 years.

The asparagus, she says, was put in as an effective land use, and remains - "but it's a sideline".

- Hamilton News

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