Saturday, August 19, 2017
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The ‘coolest’ jobs in the industry

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Steven Tomsen and Patrick Hawkins can claim – without fear of dispute – that they have the ’coolest’ jobs in the kiwifruit industry.

For 22 years Patrick and Steven have been working in the frigid conditions of Apata’s coolstores without complaint.

“I’m not really sure why I like the job so much, but I do. I guess it comes down to the people I work with,” says Steven, who joined Apata in the late 1990s when he moved from working in a pet food factory in the Hawke’s Bay to the Bay of Plenty. Today he is coolstore foreman at Apata.

Patrick agrees it’s the people and Apata as a company which have kept him working in the cold for so long.

“I really like what I do and the people around me,” says Patrick, who joined Apata around the same time as Steven. “I had been involved in the kiwifruit industry for some time before going overseas and joined Apata when I came back.”

As well as working in the company’s coolstore on its large site near Katikati, Patrick is also responsible for training its forklift drivers.

Patrick and Steven are good friends too and enjoy playing golf together at Omokoroa. But it’s on the job where the years of experience and understanding between the two is most obvious.

They operate the electric Crown forklifts as if they are an extension of their arms, picking up and moving the two-metre-tall pallets of kiwifruit, which weigh almost a tonne each, and stacking them up to a height of five metres. The corridor between the stacks is narrow, but the pair work with skill to manoeuvre the pallets of fruit with care.

“Years ago, when Apata wasn’t quite so big, we knew most of the growers and many of those who come to see their fruit packed today still recognise us,” says Steven.

“We know that the fruit we are handling represents the growers’ livelihoods and just how important it is that we handle it with care,” says Patrick.

Back in the late 1990s when the pair joined Apata, the company had five coolstores with 13 rooms. Today it has 10 stores with 47 rooms.

“Back then we only stored green kiwifruit,” says Steven.

The introduction of gold varieties, first the Hort16A and more recently G3, meant changes in handling and storage temperatures, says Patrick.

“Green kiwifruit is stored at zero degrees Celsius but gold storerooms are warmer, at about one degree Celsius,” says Patrick.

In the past, the coolstores have also held cheese and milk powder, but are now exclusively used for avocados and kiwifruit packed through the Apata post-harvest facility on the same site.

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