A female has pipped the males to the post in the region's young fruit grower contest for the second time in two years.

Danni van der Heijden, an avocado services manager at Trevelyan's Pack and Coolhouse in Te Puke, was named Bay of Plenty's Young Fruit Grower for 2018 at an awards dinner in Tauranga last week.

The practical part of the competition took place at the Te Puke A&P Show, with the speech competition part of last week's awards dinner.

Last year's champion was Erin Atkinson, but gender isn't the only match, with both Danni and Erin finishing on the podium the year before their win.

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Danni was runner-up to Erin in 2017.

"[Competing in 2017] gave me an indication of what the challenges are like, but the challenges were all different last year so you still have to do a lot of study," she says.

The six competitors went through a series of challenges, testing their skills and ability to run a successful orchard at the A&P Show.

Danni took five individual challenge awards, and especially impressed judges with her speech on science and technology as disruptors to horticulture.

She credits her success to her training, and says that her competitors put up a great fight.
"We all did our best, it was a really tough competition, and I'm glad to have won.''

Contestants were given information about the eight challenges about two weeks before the competition, but Danni says the descriptions of some were quite broad so there were some surprises on the day.

"I'm especially glad to have won the avocado challenge, that's my area. I like numbers as well, so the accounting was good for me.''

Not all the challenges suited her.

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''We had to put together a kiwifruit fertiliser recommendation and I haven't had a lot to do with that sort of thing. And I'd had a bit of practice driving a tractor, but that's not something I do every day.''

Danni will now represent the region at the Young Grower of the Year competition run by Horticulture New Zealand to select the top young fruit or vegetable grower in the country later in the year.

''I can't wait to get to the finals in August. There's not a lot of women that enter these events, so women winning two years in a row is great."

Katy McGinity, chairwoman of the Bay of Plenty Young Fruitgrower Upskilling Committee says the quality of the contestants was exceptional.

"It was great to see such a high calibre of competitors at the 2018 event. I would like to offer my congratulations to all of the contestants who illustrated not only their own skills, but also the roles and development opportunities that are available in the horticulture industry."

New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Incorporated CEO Nikki Johnston thinks that attracting young people into horticulture is vital to continue the industry's growth.

"Horticulture profits the Bay of Plenty region by approximately $1.8 billion p.a. and this is growing as the industry expands. It is important to attract and retain employees by focusing on job opportunities though careers and education within the industry.

"Events such as the Bay of Plenty Young Fruitgrower competition illustrate this commitment to developing our young people and are an excellent chance to create awareness about the roles and development opportunities that are available.

I congratulate all of the Young Fruitgrower competitors who have shown themselves to be upcoming stars of our booming industry."

Horticulture New Zealand CE Mike Chapman agrees on the importance of youth engagement and recognition.

"The Young Grower competitions show that there are capable, ambitious young people entering the primary industries, and demonstrate to the country that horticulture is not only an option for their future, but an exciting and potentially very rewarding one.

"Danni and the other contestants are exactly the kind of people the future of our industry will be based on; young and passionate. We want them thinking about careers in horticulture."

With six competitors aged under 30, all Bay of Plenty locals, the contest was well supported by local and national horticulture companies including Eurofins BOP, MPAC, Fertco, Zespri, and Prospa.

As well as all the costs associated with competing at the national event, Danni's first prize includes $1500 cash.

Aaron Wright finished in second place, while Hamish McKain was third.