A Bay of Plenty Seeka employee could be this year’s Young Māori Grower of the Year, after being named one of the top three finalists in the Ahuwhenua Trophy competition for 2020.
Brandon Darny Paora Ngamoki Cross is a 24-year-old trainee orchard manager, mainly stationed on kiwifruit orchards in Paengaroa and Te Puke.
“It was a privilege to even get an interview, let alone be named a finalist,” says Brandon. “I applied because I set a goal to try and put myself out there more, so I’m really happy to have made it this far.”
Brandon’s horticulture career somewhat happened by chance. He originally went to Victoria University in Wellington to study commerce, but decided a job indoors wasn’t for him.
After being introduced to Seeka CEO Michael Franks, Brandon was offered a job.
He’s now been working with Seeka for six years, and in that time has obtained a Level 4 Primary ITO qualification in horticulture. “When I started I had no specific interest in horticulture but, over time I have developed a passion for the industry.
“Working with people is the part I enjoy the most. I recently trained some RSE workers who ended up doing a great job, which was really rewarding.”
Brandon’s role is varied, and includes driving machinery and vine management. “Seeing the fruit growing well on the vine and being able to say ‘I did that’ – it’s a good feeling.”
Brandon says the interview was the most nerve-wracking part of the processes. “I was worried going into it – even more so when the three guys interviewing me walked in.
“It ended up being a free-flowing conversation rather than a traditional interview, so it definitely wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.”
Brandon was born in Gisborne, and is of Ngāi Tukairangi, Ngāi Te Rangi, Te Whānau-ā-Apanui and Ngāti Porou descent. He lives in Tauranga with his partner and young son, and spends his spare time martial arts training.
In the competition he’s up against Finnisha Tuhiwai, a berry packhouse manager from Northland, and Maatutaera Akonga, a senior leading hand at Hasting’s Llewellyn Horticulture, which predominantly grows apples.
Finalists were due to have a second interview and attend several events, including field days, which were cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It is yet to be confirmed when the winner will be announced.
When asked why he was chosen to be a finalist, Brandon remains modest. “I don’t know why they picked me, maybe they liked my story. I’m just stoked to have made it this far.
“In saying that, it would be awesome to take it out.”