22 May 2023, NZ: Taylor Leabourn, a 28-year-old agronomist at LeaderBrand, won the 2023 Pukekohe Young Grower of the Year competition on Friday (19 May).
The competition tested the vegetable and fruit-growing knowledge of eight contestants along with the skills needed to be successful growers. Competitors completed modules in marketing, compliance, pest and disease identification, safe tractor driving, finance, soil and fertilisers, irrigation and quality control.
Taylor says he came into the competition wanting to learn more and enjoy the day while seeing where his skill set was.
“It came as quite a nice surprise. We had a really good number of contestants this year, and a really diverse group with a mixture of outdoor vegetables, glasshouse, and fruit experience — a really good group of people. We had a lot of fun.”
Despite feeling unsure of his performance in the finance module, Taylor also took the best theory and best business awards.
“The finance was a bit daunting for me having only done it very briefly in my first year at university. Marketing is a whole different world for me, I’ve never done anything similar to that.
“I put a lot of work into the marketing in particular so I was pretty happy to get that result.”
For the marketing module, Taylor designed a seasonal advent calendar for growing vegetables aimed at primary school teachers and pupils, making it easier to grow crops at schools.
“My product was just to streamline that. If they had the garden, I could supply virtually everything: the seed, fertiliser, how to grow, when to harvest it and basically all you need to know about growing.”
The competition was well-timed for Taylor’s family with plenty of relatives around to celebrate his grandmother’s birthday, in addition to supporting Tyler at the event.
“It was a whole bunch of things going on in our household this weekend, it was really special.”
While preparing for the competition reminded Taylor of his university days with plenty of studying, the day offered plenty of fun and a chance to get to know other young growers in the area.
The eight competitors showcased a range of roles and experiences across the horticulture industry, from multi-generational growers to those with no prior rural background before growing fruit or vegetables commercially.
Sarah Dobson, who won the Pukekohe Young Grower of the Year regional final last year, says it was fantastic to have so many competitors vying for the title this year. She was on the organising committee for the event and enjoyed seeing contestants challenging themselves and building connections.
Taylor will compete on his home ground at the national Young Grower of the Year final in Pukekohe on 4-5 October. He will be competing against five other regional finalists.
The next regional event is the Central Otago Young Grower of the Year competition to be held on Friday 26 May in Cromwell.
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