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Good News Stories / March 9, 2022

Pioneer students of Agribusiness enter the workforce

After growing up on a dairy farm and kiwifruit orchard in the Bay of Plenty, Kate Wilkins thought she would never pursue a career in horticulture. But after studying Agribusiness at St Paul’s Collegiate School, she discovered the world of opportunity in New Zealand’s primary sector.

The 25-year-old is now an Extension Delivery Specialist at Zespri, the world’s largest fruit marketer.

The company sells kiwifruit to more than 50 countries around the globe and has licensed growers in Italy, France, Japan, and South Korea.

“Having grown up around agriculture and horticulture I wasn’t sure if I wanted a career in the sector. It was ‘normal’ and not exciting to me, and after working in the summer holidays in the kiwifruit orchard I didn’t want to ever work in an orchard again,” laughs Kate.

Kate studied Agribusiness in Year 12 and 13 at St Paul’s, starting in 2014 when the course was still in its infancy.

St Paul’s established the agribusiness programme to meet the primary industry’s needs for engaged, well-qualified young people, enthusiastic about their career opportunities in the primary sector. NZ Kiwifruit Growers Inc have partnered with the Agribusiness in Schools project which is now being taught in 97 schools nationally, catering to 3057 students in 2020.

Kate had always enjoyed economics and accounting and with a farming background she says Agribusines seemed like a natural progression for her.

“Studying Agribusiness at St Paul’s really opened my eyes to the multitude of career opportunities within the primary industry, which didn’t just include working out on an orchard or on farm,” she says.

Kate found the course offered students access to industry leaders and she remembers guest speakers including Richard Burke, General Manager of LeaderBrand, which is New Zealand’s most diverse horticulture business. She says their presentations and the curriculum provided insights across the entire value chain of the primary industry.

After finishing high school, Kate enrolled for a Bachelor of Commerce at Canterbury University, but by the second semester she decided to shift to Lincoln University to study a Bachelor of Commerce Agriculture.

“I could see a clear career path. It was economics and accounting, but it also took in the supply chain, animal science, plant science and soil science. It gave me a sense of purpose around what I wanted to do,” says Kate.

When she graduated in 2017, Kate returned to work on her family’s farm. She set about establishing a new 12-hectare organic gold kiwifruit orchard to add to the six hectares of gold and green orchards they already had.

It was while establishing the new orchard Kate found her niche.

“We had a lot of people through the orchard at that time, including people from Zespri, because what we were doing was new and fresh.”

Kate was offered a role in Zespri’s Extension team.

As an Extension Delivery Specialist Kate says she is now focused on creating positive change in New Zealand’s kiwifruit industry.

“We’re supporting and inspiring growers to produce the world’s best kiwifruit, whether that’s through changes in sustainability practices, production practices or even health and safety. No two days are the same,” says Kate.

She loves that it’s not a typical office job and that she can get out in the field and see the impact her work is having on growers.

“I love the interaction with growers and using my knowledge to provide them with advice or solutions to problems. One day I can be running a field day and the next day I’m writing a newsletter or talking to growers about nutrient management and irrigation methods.”

For anyone thinking about taking Agribusiness Kate encourages them to go and research the jobs on Seek.

“Search roles in Agribusiness and see the jobs that come up. You’ll soon realise it’s not all on a farm or in an orchard,” says Kate.

New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Inc. CEO Colin Bond says that this is a great example of the careers the industry provides. “People often have a misconception that the kiwifruit industry is just about picking and packing”, says Colin.

“Kates’ journey is a great example of the careers available, and I encourage people interested in scientific, commercial and technical jobs in this booming industry to visit the Education page of the NZKGI website for more information.”

For more information about NZKGI and kiwifruit careers, visit www.NZKGI.org.nz.