A Hastings apple grower has been named as a finalist in the Ahuwhenua Young Māori Grower Award 2020.

Maatutaera Tipoki Akonga, 26, who is a senior leading hand at Llewellyn Horticulture, Hastings, is one of three finalists.

Akonga is up against 24-year-old Brandon Darny Paora Ngamoki Cross, a trainee orchard manager, and Finnisha Nicola Letitia Tuhiwai, 25, a packhouse manager in Maungatapere.

The award, which formally began in 2012, is designed to recognise and celebrate rising, young, Māori talent within the farming and horticulture sectors.

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Akonga, who has previously worked for Turners and Growers prior to joining Llewellyn three years ago, said his current 80ha of land is serviced by himself and two other full-time staff.

"We are more or less responsible for keeping the orchard and the business running on a day-to-day basis," he said.

"We take care of the pruning, spraying and mowing the orchard but we employ a range of local and RSE workers to harvest the crops throughout the picking season."

Judge of the Ahuwhenua Young Māori Grower Awards, Aaron Hunt, said the standard of entrants was very high and reflects the number of young Māori who are making successful careers in horticulture.

"The sector has natural appeal to young Māori because it offers an outdoor lifestyle combined with excellent career prospects leading to management roles," he said.

"As judges, we found all the entrants passionate about the industry and enthusiastic about their future prospects."

The awards are for people who are working for levy paying members of Horticulture NZ or studying a horticulture qualification.

The father of two, who holds level 3 and level 4 fruit production qualifications, also added that the Covid-19 lockdown has challenged him to make sure fruit is picked at the right time and delivered to the packhouse.

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Akonga, who left school at 16, became an apprentice mechanic until being offered an opportunity to work in an orchard packhouse, before completing his qualifications.

The announcement of the winner has been delayed due to Covid-19, but the Ahuwhenua Trophy Management Committee is monitoring advice from health officials and will keep everyone informed.

Akonga also said leasing or managing his own orchard is his ultimate goal.