Italian kiwifruit packhouses' experience in dealing with COVID-19 has helped New Zealand to fast-track innovation in its own packhouses to deal with stringent new safety regulations.
That's the message from Danni van der Heijden, an award-winning technical advisor in the avocado industry.
She didn’t come from a horticulture background, having grown up at Mangere Bridge, in South Auckland
“Although I always enjoyed gardening as a child, I didn’t go into horticulture until I had studied chemistry and biology at university,” van der Heijden (24) told Rural News.
“I wanted a job where I would be able to go out in the field as well as an office environment, and have a diverse role doing different things each day. Horticulture ticked all the boxes on that.”
Although she went to some career events at university to figure out what she wanted to do after finishing her degree, it was mainly her own research which led her to horticulture. She looked into different roles available.
The industry has lived up to her expectations and van der Heijden has proved an asset to the industry, working as a technical advisor for AVOCO in Tauranga, where her role includes technical support, data analysis, mapping and research.
This year she won Young Grower of the Year and Young Fruit Grower of the Year and came third in the Young Horticulturalist of the Year competition. In the latter competition, she won the AGMARDT Market Innovation Project award and also took finance, innovation and speech awards.
Danni explains in her role with AVOCO she does technical support and research on issues along the supply chain from on-orchard to packhouses and to the market — the importers of the avocado.
“It is the whole way across the spectrum which means my whole role is quite diverse and varied,” she says.
She started studying maths, physics, biology and chemistry at university and everything she studied has come in handy at some point.
Horticulture offers a range of jobs for people looking for a career, she says.
“There’s everything from the technical side of things to the practical side on the orchard and then you have the more office-based side in marketing or finance. Any job you can imagine fits somewhere in horticulture.”
The industry has excellent options to progress. “If you decide that something different is of interest there are definitely avenues to explore different things,” she says.
Entering competitions has enabled her to add much to her learning and meet many people in the industry.
“I have had some really good conversations with different industry members and also people from different crops as well. It is always good to get their opinion. Learning more about those other crops has been an important part of the competition.”
She also thinks the competitions are a good way for people interested in the industry to have a look at what it does.
“Horticulture is very diverse and there are a whole lot of opportunities there for people if they grab them.”
To attract young people to their industries, she believes employers should offer opportunities for further learning and have paths laid out for career development.