Science brings cutting edge

Cutting edge science is essential to great orchards, according to the new head of Apata Group’s orchard management division.

Following her recent appointment, Apata Grow general manager Dr Sonia Whiteman is wasting no time utilising her unashamed science bias.

Dr Sonia Whiteman Apata Grow general manager enjoys translating technical information into “grower speak”.

“Every week, I’m out there talking to orchardists about the best and latest information and technology and how it can improve their profit margins,” she says.

“I’m absolutely passionate about taking good science and applying it in very practical ways. That’s why this is my dream job.”

Sonia’s academic beginnings – a horticultural science degree with first class honours and a doctorate in plant diseases - are matched by her focus on commerce.

Her 20-year career includes advisory, research and management roles in the Environmental Protection Authority, Horticulture New Zealand, Zespri and Kiwifruit Vine Health. Most recently, she was the product development manager at Ballance Agri-Nutrients.

“Most academics can’t wait to lecture or get into the lab but I’ve always had this drive to take the knowledge directly to the people who’ll benefit from it.”

While at Zespri, Sonia helped with the roll-out of the Gold3 cultivar. When Psa hit, she was seconded to KVH to help develop and deliver disease management protocols.

“That was a crazy time,” she says. “But it was also the most rewarding period of my career to date. I’m extremely proud of the resources we produced for growers at a time when everyone was under intense pressure.

“Back then, I helped develop a disease management plan for orchards affected by Psa. Now, in my Apata Grow role I am seeing first-hand that these plans have helped industry learn to live with Psa. To see it actually working for them, it doesn’t get much better than that.”

Sonia is keen to ramp up Apata’s ’tech-transfer’ activities to ensure all Apata growers have access to the most up-to-date growing techniques.  In addition to field days and written resources, she is keen to establish smaller, specialist discussion groups for orchardists who are particularly keen to boost production by experimenting with new technology and science.

She says her broad range of contacts in both the academic and commercial scientific communities will serve Apata Grow’s clients well.

“It’s not that I have all the answers but I do have a lot of contacts that I can access. And I’m able to translate technical information into grower speak for our clients who are hungry for answers and advice.”


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