A Tauranga woman has been named New Zealand's Young Grower of the Year.

AVOCO technical advisor Danni van der Heijden, 24, won the Horticulture New Zealand award in Napier on Wednesday night.

In total, she took home more than $14,000 prize money, which she said she planned to put towards the purchase of a lifestyle block where she will grow her own avocados.

Van der Heijden beat six other contestants to the title after a day of competition.


It was the second year running a Bay of Plenty woman has won the title, awarded to Erin Atkinson last year.

"It's really great to have won, and bring the title back to the Bay of Plenty," said Van der Heijden, who got through to the nationals by winning the 2018 Bay of Plenty Fruit Grower of the Year title after a few tries.

"I was convinced to enter by both last year's winner and some colleagues, and I'm very glad I came back."

Originally from South Auckland, Van der Heijden said she studied biology and chemistry at Waikato University and was looking for work that was a combination of being outside and in an office.

She found it in the avocado industry and moved to Tauranga four years ago.

"I'm the first in my family to go into horticulture.

"This is a wonderful industry and a great career. You can see the results of your work every day. I love what I do."

Danni van der Heijden beat six other contestants in a daylong session of horticultural challenges. Photo/supplied
Danni van der Heijden beat six other contestants in a daylong session of horticultural challenges. Photo/supplied

Van der Heijden was also named New Zealand's top young fruit grower and won awards for finance, innovation, and speaking.

The challenges included practical and business tests as well as taking part in a leadership panel discussion on sustainability and delivering a speech on the future of horticulture at the awards dinner.

"We can remain static and get left behind or as an industry, we can innovate, develop new technologies and thrive," she told the 200 people at the dinner in her award-winning speech.

Van der Heijden told the Bay of Plenty Times that sustainability was one of the biggest challenges facing the industry.

"We need to be able to make the best use of the land we have in the face of urbanisation and resource constraints."

She said she was happy in her current role, where she was carrying out research, and had no plans for the next step of her career.

Danni van der Heijden with her award. Photo/supplied
Danni van der Heijden with her award. Photo/supplied

Horticulture New Zealand president Julian Raine said Van der Heijden's victory was hard won and well deserved.

"Danni is a fantastic young grower, and an excellent representation of the talent both in the Bay of Plenty and New Zealand as a whole."

Van der Heijden will go on to represent the fruit and vegetable sectors at the Young Horticulturist of the Year competition in November, competing for a share of a $40,000 prize pool.

First runner-up was Lisa Arnold from Hawke's Bay, while third place went to Central Otago's Hamish Darling.