Pro Education

Climbing the ladder in the apple industry

The apple industry in Hawke’s Bay is thriving. Looking at 2017 statistics published by the New Zealand Institute for Plant & Food Research Ltd. since 2015, apple orchards in New Zealand have increased in value by approximately 70 percent. In 2017 New Zealand exported 343,000t of apples (total production of 384,000t). Of which, 70 percent are grown in Hawke’s Bay. In 2019 exports are expected to exceed 400,000t.

This boom in the apple industry is leading to increased career opportunities with more skilled labour in demand. To keep pace with the fast changing horticulture sector, EIT – aligned with industry and the Industry Training Organisations (ITOs) – is constantly widening its range of programmes. A recent addition was the New Zealand Diploma in Horticulture (Level 5), Post Harvest Strand.

“The diploma is spread over two years to meet the needs of people working in the horticulture industry,” explains horticulture tutor Chris Thorman, the programme coordinator for the programme. “This means students can work and study during the year and it is tailored to fit around the busy packing season.”

Joe Dale and Rachael Marston are two current students. These pack house managers have several years of experience in the industry and are now studying to keep up-to-date with current developments.

Joe, production manager at Freshco, says, he worked his way up from the ground. He left high school and started to work in orchards and then packhouses and in doing so, gained a lot of background knowledge about the industry. “The course enhances my management skills and gives me a deeper understanding of things that I’m doing,” says Joe who is responsible for a team of 100 employees.

“Ninety percent of the apples that get graded and packed on site are exported,” says Joe pointing out the challenges of accommodating all the various market requirements. Apples destined for the Japanese market for instance, have to be fumigated for two hours and stored at two degrees for 25 days. Joe notes that some markets even require the apples to be presented in a certain way and are happy to reject a consignment if the aesthetics standards are not met.

Rachael too has climbed the ladder in the industry. The 26-year-old oversees the crop logistics at Johnny Appleseed by organising and controlling all the incoming fruit from the orchards and outgoing consignments to cool stores and customers. “For instance, I have to check all of the bin dockets on every incoming load, whether the information displayed is correct and the fruit has met all the legal requirements. It’s all about traceability and food safety,” she points out.

Rachael was offered the chance to gain the qualification by her boss. “I thought that there would be nothing wrong with expanding my horizons and streamlining my knowledge. I’m able to understand the process now, for example why we store fruit in certain way and what difference it makes to fruit.”

The industry realises that well-trained people are the key to success and fully supports the programme which enhances the career prospects within the industry. The next Horticulture diploma (Post Harvest, Level 5) starts at the end of July at the EIT Hastings Centre.