A Hastings apple grower is still in shock after being named the winner of the inaugural Ahuwhenua Young Māori Grower Award.
Twenty-six-year-old Maatu Akonga "stumbled" into the horticulture industry about six years ago when looking for work.
"I went into a packing house and from there I got onto a course.
"I just never left. I enjoyed it too much."
Of Ngāi Tahu, Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Kahungungu descent, he said it was a really rewarding industry in which you could go far, quickly.
"It's especially good for us and a big push for the horticulture industry to see it in a positive light.
"[It's rewarding] when you see the big things we do and how it pays off, when pick it all and put it out there for people to have something to eat."
It's also an industry "screaming for workers" right now, he said.
While the company he works for, Llewellyn Horticulture, didn't feel the labour shortage too badly during the picking season, they were starting to now with thinning.
"We're under the pump."
Though this left Akonga with little time to celebrate his success, he said he enjoyed being flown up to Rotorua for the award ceremony over the weekend.
He said he was "still processing" having won the award.
"I've done smaller competitions before.
"I thought I'd give it a go but I didn't think I'd even make it to the finals, especially being such a big competition on a national scale."
Akonga encouraged other young Māori to try for the award and to consider a career in horticulture.
Award judge Aaron Hunt, from Te Tumu Paeroa, said the standard of entrants in the inaugural competition was very high and also reflected the number of young Māori making successful careers in the industry.
"Māori have always been involved in the horticulture sector and in recent years they have been involved in significant new enterprises".
As part of the judging process, the finalists attended an intensive two-day study tour designed to provide a range of insights, inspiration and experiences across the horticultural sector.
This included visits to the Plant and Foods Research centre in Hawke's Bay, other horticultural operations and an opportunity to meet with Māori leaders involved in the horticultural sector.