Three past winners reflect on the competition

August 2018

Andrew, Kelly Jean and Patrick talk about the experience of being in the Young Horticulturist Competition and looking back, what it has meant for them.

Andrew Hutchinson (2016 Winner)

For Andrew, entering the competition was about “the chance to put myself up against the best in the wider industry and see where I stand”. With the Young Grower of the Year title already under his belt, Andrew knew what he needed to do.

“Once the tasks were sent out,  I contacted growers and service providers in the industry that specialised in the subjects and got their help. I also went through a lot of old Uni notes and spent a lot of time on the AGMARDT project”.

“The AGMARDT project pushed me to get organized and challenge my procrastination habits. Taking an idea through to a potential business opportunity was one of the hardest projects I’ve had to work on. Having gone through the process now, I’m confident I could start my own business if the right idea came to me”.

Since winning the 2016 competition, Andrew has moved into a management role in the covered crops team at T&G.

Using the proceeds of his travel prize package, Andrew will be taking a 3-month sabbatical in Europe this year, to visit growers and complete a course in green house production at Wageningen University.

For Andrew, the benefits of entering this competition were obvious. “We are in an industry experiencing rapid growth and at the same time has a massive shortage of young people. Entering a competition like this gives the opportunity to push yourself, develop your skills, and get ahead”.

Kelly Jean Kerr (2013 Winner)

“I was encouraged by my boss at the time to enter the nursery and garden sector Young Achiever Competition and ended up coming runner-up.  Armed with the previous experience I entered the next year and won Young Achiever which entered me into the Young Horticulturist Competition”.

For Kelly, having a good support network in her sector made a real difference. “I was fortunate to have Carol Fraser mentor me through the process who had worked alongside the previous nursery contestants and who had a good understanding of what was involved and what I needed to learn.

From there it was a case of being organized, Spring is a busy time for most of the horticulture industry so working out a timeline and sticking to it was key to getting everything completed for the AGMARDT innovation project and getting the additional knowledge and skills I needed to learn, learnt! ”

“The self-confidence I gained is something that money can’t buy and the contacts you gain across the wider horticulture industry and within your own sector are invaluable”.

Winning the Young Horticulturist competition has definitely helped open doors for Kelly. “I left my job to step into the managers role at Green Door Garden and Gifts which has the future option of buying the business. The role is a big step up in responsibility from my last position and there are lots of new skills to learn”.

Kelly has been able to travel to Europe on two different occasions to visit some of the leading garden centres and network with garden centre owners from around the world at the International Garden Centre Congress. She also gained inspiration by visiting the Chelsea Flower Show and some of the great gardens of Europe.

Kelly recommendation to those entering competitions like Young Achiever and Young Horticulturist is to talk to previous contestants, learn from their experiences and gain some understanding about what you will go through on the competition days. “It is a fantastic opportunity so if they are prepared to put in the hard yards definitely go for it!”

Patrick Malley (2015 Winner)

“I saw the competition as an opportunity to challenge myself and my knowledge against other future industry leaders, and to identify the gaps where I needed to continue developing myself personally. I also wanted to raise the profile of horticulture in my home region, Northland, and use the competition as a platform to raise my own profile.”

“In order to even be eligible to compete in the Young Hort competition I needed to have won a regional and then the national Young Grower of the Year competition, and doing these competitions really helped prepare me. I also spent a lot of time talking to industry leaders and previous competitors as well”.

“Meeting my fellow competitors and other industry leaders during the competition and at the event dinner was one of the most valuable aspects of the competition for me, as I hope to keep those connections for years to come. I found the speech competition really daunting and challenging. I find talking to groups of people really easy, but a large room full of 300+ people was difficult. It was really beneficial to have gone through a Toastmasters course prior to the competition to help work through any nerves and presenting kinks”.

“Winning the competition has enabled me to start up my own technology business, called Dataphyll, which is developing worker management and traceability solutions for the horticulture industry. Without entering the Young Hort competition this business, and this opportunity, would never have existed”.

Patrick also used part of his winnings to travel around California state for over a month with his family, looking at different horticulture operations there.

Patrick’ advice for this year’s finalists? “Ask questions. Ask them of your work colleagues. Ask them of leaders in your industry. And ask questions whilst you are competing and of the judges. Because every question asked is an opportunity to learn more about yourself and about your industry, and by being part of this competition you will find that everyone wants to see you succeed”.


Simon Gourley
Young Horticulturist 2019

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