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New training programme with two young Maori cadets

Seeka launches new training programme with two young Maori cadets

Te Puke-headquartered Seeka Kiwfruit Industries (NZX-SEK) has launched a new three-year cadetship programme aimed at developing young people into future kiwifruit industry managers. Two new recruits into the programme are Levi Ryland and Brandon Cross from Gisborne, who have iwi ties to the Ngai Tukairangi Trust, one of the several Maori grower entities that pack with Seeka.

“Maori have a large ownership stake in Seeka and we work closely with our Maori trusts. They have told us they are looking for young Maori to be trained up and to eventually run orchards and we have extended our cadet programme to fulfill that desire” said Michael Franks, Chief Executive of Seeka, New Zealand’s biggest kiwifruit grower and a leading post-harvest company.

“The sector is preparing for the future. We want to show young people the kiwifruit industry offers a viable pathway to a range of interesting management options. Levi and Brandon are very promising young recruits who will help strengthen our strong existing relationships with our Maori growers and shareholders.”

Maori trust interests make up approximately 17 per cent of NZX-listed Seeka’s shareholder base.

The training programme is aimed at introducing the cadets to all aspects of the industry, said Bryan Grafas, Seeka General Manager Orchards. They begin by learning orcharding techniques including pruning, girdling, thinning and vine training, and will then move on to packhouse, coolstore, marketing and other operations. The cadets will also be completing a level four diploma in horticulture through the Primary Training Organisation. Seeka plans to recruit additional cadets to the programme later in the year.

“The idea is that after three years, the cadets will have been exposed to a wide range of experiences and be ready to specialize and focus on the areas they are most interested in to further develop their careers,” said Mr Grafas. “There is a shortage of good orchard managers in the kiwifruit sector.”

The 19-year-old cousins left high school at the end of 2013, with Mr Ryland focused on business administration and Mr Cross on IT. After briefly attending university, they decided it wasn’t the best route for them and were looking for alternative career paths when the cadetship opportunity came up.

They began with Seeka late last year, and have begun by learning a variety of hands-on orchard tasks.

“It’s a lot more interesting that I expected,” said Mr Ryland, whose only previous farm-related work had been a summer job picking corn. “I didn’t really know much about kiwifruit, and when I came here I was blown away by how complex and interesting it was.”

Mr Cross agreed, saying he had been expecting the work to be mostly hard labour.

“It is tough, but there’s a lot of maths involved in predicting fruit harvest numbers and keeping the reject rates down,” he said. “I’m really enjoying it.”

Both the new cadets are keen rugby players, with Mr Ryland in particular marked out as a potential star during his time as a winger with league team the Seeka Falcons in Gisborne.

Mr Grafas said as soon as the local Te Puke Sports and Recreation Club heard the new cadets were coming into the area they were at Seeka’s door to make sure they would be signing up to play for the local club. Both were now training hard and turning out for the Te Puke’s senior rugby union team, he said.

Seeka General Manager Growers Simon Wells said the kiwifruit sector and horticulture generally had become much more complex. As well as ensuring that fruit remained disease-free in the wake of the Psa infestation, horticulturalists had to understand the increasingly more technical aspects of growing, he said.

“As consumers become more demanding about the taste and the quality of their food, then we as growers have to be really careful we are meeting those demands. And that means we need to keep bringing in and training up high calibre young people to ensure the industry’s future.”


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