Ahuwhenua Young Māori Grower Award 2020 finalists announced

MEDIA RELEASE - 20 April 2020


The finalists in the Ahuwhenua Young Māori Grower Award 2020 have been announced. They are:

Brandon Darny Paora Ngamoki Cross, Ngai Tukairangi, Ngai Te Rangi, Te Whanau-a-Apanui, Ngati Porou. Brandon, 24, works as trainee Orchard Manager for the large kiwifruit orchard management and post-harvest company Seeka.

Maatutaera Tipoki Akonga, Ngai Tahu, Ngati Porou, Ngati Kahungungu. Maatutaera, 26, works as a Senior Leading Hand at Llewellyn Horticulture based in the Hastings area.

Finnisha Nicola Letitia Tuhiwai, Ngati Te Rino raua ko Te Parawhau nga hapu, ko Ngapuhi te iwi. Finnisha, 25, works as a Packhouse Manager for Maungatapere Berries located west of Whangarei in a rural town ship called Maungatapere.


This award was inaugurated in 2012 and is designed to recognise up and coming young Maori in the farming and horticulture sectors. The competition has proved to be very popular and has attracted high quality entrants, many of whom have gone on to take leadership roles in the agri-sector.

The three finalists this year were selected from a number of entrants from around the country.

Long-time judge Aaron Hunt of Te Tumu Paeroa, speaking on behalf of the judging panel says the standard of entrants in this inaugural competition for horticulture was very high and also reflects the number of young Maori who are making successful careers in horticulture. Aaron says Maori have always been involved in the horticulture sector and in recent years they have been involved in significant new enterprises.

"The sector has natural appeal to young Maori because it offers an outdoor lifestyle combined with excellent career prospects leading to management roles. As judges, we found all the entrants passionate about the industry and enthusiastic about their future prospects," he says.

Sadly due to current Covid-19 restrictions, it will not be possible to complete the finalist judging process and determine a winner for 2020 for a little while yet. The Ahuwhenua Trophy Management Committee is monitoring advice from health officials closely however and will keep everyone informed when it is safe to undertake this next part of the process. At that stage we should also be able to determine what is the most appropriate way to celebrate the finalists and present the trophy to the ultimate winner.

Finalist Profiles

Brandon Darny Paora Ngamoki Cross Brandon Darny Paora Ngamoki Cross
Ngai Tukairangi, Ngai Te Rangi, Te Whanau-a-Apanui, Ngati Porou

Brandon, 24, was born in Gisborne and now works as trainee orchard manager for the large kiwifruit orchard management and post-harvest company Seeka. He has a partner and a young son.

After leaving school he went to Victoria University in Wellington to study for a degree in commerce. But he says the thought of spending another three years in a classroom was unappealing and after two months he left university and headed back home.

In Tauranga he was introduced to the CEO of Seeka, Michael Franks who offered him the chance to join his company and he did, moving to the Bay of Plenty a few months later.

His work is based around the kiwifruit capital of New Zealand, Te Puke and also the township of Paengaroa.

"When I started I had no specific interest in horticulture but over time I have developed a passion for the industry and enjoy my role," he says.

As a trainee manager, Brandon gets to a range of tasks especially during the harvest. This includes driving tractors and forklifts or working in the packhouse. Brandon also undertakes vine management which includes, but is not limited to organising sprays, fertilisers, structural maintenance and cultural plant practices.

Brandon Cross is now in his sixth year with Seeka and has completed a Level 4 Primary ITO course in horticulture. He says his main interests are his young family and also martial arts. He spends a lot of time training and hopes to take part in competitions while he is still young enough to do so.

Brandon was working during the lockdown and his partner and son went up the coast to self-isolate in a smaller community. He says he misses them, but work has been very busy and it made sense for them to go away to a safe place.

Maatutaera Tipoki Akonga Maatutaera Tipoki Akonga
Ngai Tahu, Ngati Porou, Ngati Kahungungu

Maatutaera Tipoki Akonga is 26 years of age, he has a partner and two children and is a senior leading hand at Llewellyn Horticulture based in Hastings area. He has worked for Llewellyn for just on three years and before that had worked for other companies, including Turners and Growers. When he left school at 16 he did some seasonal work, then became an apprentice mechanic until that job folded and he got an opportunity to work in an orchard packhouse. He then did a course in orcharding and has remained in the horticultural sector ever since.

His current qualifications include Level 3 and Level 4 Fruit Production and he plans to do Level 5 at some stage.

Llewellyn Horticulture has about 80 hectares of land on which is grown mainly apples with some stone fruit such as plums, peaches and also some pears. All told there are about eight orchards which are based around the Hastings district.

The company is small and Maatu says with two other full-time staff he gets to do a range of tasks.

"We are more or less responsible for keeping the orchard and the business running on a day to day basis. We take care of the pruning, spraying and mowing the orchard but we employ a range of local and RSE workers to harvest the crops throughout the picking season," he says.

Maatu says the recent Covid-19 lockdown was challenging making sure that the fruit was picked at the right time and delivered to the packhouse.

He describes himself as an outdoors person and loves hunting and fishing. Maatu says the outdoor life appeals to him and he loves his job. He says his ultimate goal is to either lease or manage his own orchard.

Finnisha Nicola Letitia Tuhiwai Finnisha Nicola Letitia Tuhiwai
Ngati Te Rino raua ko Te Parawhau nga hapu, ko Ngapuhi te iwi

Finnisha Tuhiwai, 25, was born in Whangarei and is packhouse manager for Maungatapere Berries which is located west of Whangarei in the rural township of Maungatapere.

She has gained a number of qualifications through Primary ITO, including Train the Trainer and Kiwifruit Orchard Skills. Finnisha has also completed other personal development courses including leadership courses, and the Storage and Handling of Berryfruit course through Massey University. She is currently studying Horticulture Level 4 – Fruit Production with Primary ITO and would like to do the Agribusiness Diploma to continue her personal development.

Finnisha was initially a dairy farmer but says the attraction to make a career in horticulture came because it was close to home. She says once she started working for Maungatapere Berries and learning about all the different jobs, such as propagation and learning about the plants and their life cycle, she really got involved and put her hand up to learn anything she could.

It was while working in the Berryfruit Packhouse that she found her passion. "I love being involved now in the decision making, troubleshooting ideas, and even working on processes and training. I have discovered there is a career in horticulture, and I can earn while I learn is important for helping me support my family. I enjoy being outside and the variety of teams and people I work with. One thing I enjoy is that horticulture is always changing and developing," she says.

Finnisha Tuhiwai says her goals are to continue her education in horticulture, and further develop the packhouse looking at new technology and how the business can be the most productive. Finnisha says she hopes to take her learnings back to her people, be a great role model for her family and show that you can make this a career.

Media can contact Peter Burke: 021 224 2183 / peterb@actrix.co.nz.

Photographs are free for use in relation to the competition. Visit www.bit.ly/ahuwhenuatrophy or contact John Cowpland, Alphapix: 027 253 3464 / info@alphapix.co.nz.

A big thanks to sponsors of the Ahuwhenua Young Māori Grower Award: Te Puni Kōkiri, Primary ITO, Te Tumu Paeroa and Horticulture New Zealand.