Mid Canterbury agronomist ties for first

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Mid Canterbury agronomist Esteban Ibanez has tied for first place in the Young Vegetable Grower of the Year competition held in Christchurch. Esteban tied with Auckland grower Gurjant Singh.

It was the first time in the competition’s history there were two winners. They will compete against other regional finalists for the final Young Vegetable Grower 2018 title, and the ultimate Young Grower of the Year 2018 title in Napier on August 21-22.

Esteban, 30, is a production agronomist for Leaderbrand South Island, based at Chertsey.

He has an agricultural science degree.

He said the win gave him a chance to network with people in the industry.

“I’m astonished, actually,” he said.

“I was nervous to begin, but as the day progressed I got more and more confident. The other contestants were great, hard-working and motivated, and it’s been great to compete beside them.”

Gurjant, 27, has a farming background in Punjab, India, and moved to New Zealand in 2008 where he studied Level 4 Horticulture at the Manukau Institute of Technology. He is an assistant grower at T&G (Turners & Growers), Favona.

In the day-long competition, entrants competed in six modules (three practical and three theoretical challenges) designed to test the skills needed to run a successful vegetable growing business. They covered topics from pest identification to forklift proficiency, with a marketing plan.

They also had to give a three-minute speech on “bridging the rural/urban divide”.

With both men winning numerous individual prizes during each challenge and scoring consistently high in the other events, the competition proved too close to call.

Horticulture Canterbury Growers Association chairman Mike Arnold said this was one for the record books.

“The Young Grower competition aims to showcase our outstanding young people and, with two champions this year, we clearly have some excellent talent here,” Mike said.

“The way Esteban, Gurjant, and the other contestants spoke about the urban-rural divide shows that they truly understand the need to engage and speak frankly with the public about our industry.”