Gisborne horticulture leader awarded top honour

Bill Thorpe and wife Margaret with the Bledisloe Cup, the top accolade presented at the Horticulture Conference in Hamilton last month.

Horticulture’s 2019 Bledisloe Cup has been awarded to “an absolute gentleman and statesman of the industry” who was involved in some of New Zealand’s first commercial kiwifruit plantings in 1969.

Bill Thorpe of Gisborne, with wife Anne, was presented the prestigious cup that celebrates a person who has made an outstanding contribution to horticulture in NZ, at the Our Food Future Horticulture Conference dinner in Hamilton on August 1.

Bill has been associated with horticulture for 50 years. Involved in some of this country’s first commercial kiwifruit plantings in 1969, by 1975 he’d developed Gisborne’s first, seamless kiwifruit packhouse and export facility.

In 1980 Bill decided to set up his own business, establishing Thorpe Horticulture aimed at providing development services for large new plantings of kiwifruit, persimmons, satsumas and nashi.

Using experience gained from the family packhouse operation, Bill also supervised the construction of four new packhouses including NZ Fruits, now Gisborne’s largest, in which he later became a shareholder.

During the late-1980s the logic of expanding the growing and packing activity into the marketing of Gisborne fruit and produce became obvious  – and Bill thus established First Fresh in 1989, ensuring the full ‘tree to trolley’ concept was available.

At the conference, Bill was also acknowledged for his profound contribution to the persimmon industry during the last 40 years. In 1988 he became a founding member of the NZ Persimmon Industry Council, and remains an active member. In 1997, Bill started exporting persimmons and was highly instrumental in the push into markets like China and the United States.

Described by his colleagues as “commercially mature and unfailingly courteous” and “an absolute gentleman and statesman of the industry”, Bill is also known to be “relentless in representing the growers of the Gisborne region”.

Bill says it’s been particularly satisfying to have spent most of his working life involved in such a dynamic and forward-looking industry. “To receive this award is a real honour. In the twilight of my career I’m particularly honoured to join the impressive list of people who have their names engraved on this magnificent trophy.”

The Bledisloe Cup for horticulture was first presented in 1931 by Governor General Lord Bledisloe, for a competition between orchardists for the best exhibit of NZ apples at the Imperial Fruit Show.

It’s one of several cups Lord Bledisloe presented to NZ and is similar to rugby’s Bledisloe Cup.


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