The talk on the opening day of the 50 National Agricultural Fieldays may for many have been issues of the moment such as the rain and mycoplasma bovis it was for a Hawke's Bay contingent all about turning the region into a vocational destination to cope with an avalanche of horticultural jobs needing to be filled over the next few years.

The project is being led by the Horticultural Capability Group (HCG), in which the Hawke's Bay Fruitgrowers Association has joined forces with national industry groups to get the message out to thousands of high school students and others expected to be among the foot-traffic of over 130,000 in the four days of the Southern Hemisphere's biggest agricultural exposition, being held at Mystery Creek, in the heart of Waikato dairying and equine breeding country between Hamilton and Cambridge.

Also in the group are Hastings-based New Zealand Apples and Pears (formerly Pipfruit NZ), and Horticulture NZ, New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Incorporated, Vegetables NZ, and New Zealand Avocado.

The HCG is among over 1100 site-holders spread across the 114 hectares for Fieldays which started yesterday with agribusiness leaders breakfast featuring Minister of Agriculture Damien O'Connor, speaking mainly about biosecurity and the M.bovis alert.


A few hours later, the skies opened again with a torrential downpour, but by early afternoon it was clearing and the sun was out — "typical Fieldays weather," according to Apple and Pears chief executive Alan Pollard, who was among dozens from Hawke's Bay who to get to Mystery Creek had to detour through the treacherous Napier-Taihape road or other routes after slips and flooding closed main rout State Highway 5 between Napier and Taupo on Tuesday.

Pollard said his organisation has 8-10 people at Fieldays, with a big focus today during the visits by high school students mainly from Waikato, Bay of Plenty and Taranaki.

"As horticulture industry businesses have grown, so too have the opportunities for a range of sophisticated and rewarding careers," he said,

Horticulture NZ chief executive Mike Chapman, another of the high-powered team on site, said all members of the group are working together to attract the right people and to retain them by supporting development of their careers. "Horticulture should be an industry that everyone considers," he said.

Among the strong Hawke's Bay presence yesterday were farm-fencing father-and-son Shane and Tony Bouskill, who were defending their Silver Spades national farm fencing pairs title, ahead of Tutira fencing contractor Tony's bid to knock father and Smedley Station instruct Shane off the pedestal of Golden Pliers singles supremacy, following four wins in the event.

There are, however, no Hawke's Bay contestants among the four men and four women in Rural Catch, a transtasman answer to New Zealand Bachelor in which the eight battle for the Golden Gumboot in some novelty challenges with tractors and cooking the tradition competition fare of farm fencing, sheep dog trialing, and handling a quad-bike.

Early yesterday Agriculture minister O'Connor told the leaders breakfast all New Zealanders need to participate in the "intersection" of natural, social and economic capital needed to fulfil the aims of the Biosecurity 2025 strategy.