At just 32 years old, Catherine Wilks is making an impact on the avocado industry at a global level.
The Tauranga resident has spent the last three years as the industry systems associate for NZ Avocado, and presented at the Avocado World Congress in front of representatives from all across the globe earlier this year.
Catherine says delivering her presentation on arthropod pests of avocados grown in New Zealand was a “true honour”.
“The audience included avocado industry experts, scientists, policymakers, and fellow professionals from around the globe. A total of 1200 delegates attended the congress with representatives from 33 different countries.”
Catherine’s journey in the avocado industry began with a passion for agriculture and sustainable farming practices, which fit in perfectly with her love for the “delicious and environmentally friendly” avocado.
“After completing my education at Massey University – a Bachelor of Science with a double major in Zoology and Physiology, I started my career with a focus on applied entomology at Plant and Food Research.
“I eventually moved into the horticulture sector for both kiwifruit and avocados after returning to the Bay of Plenty, working for Eurofins.
“I was drawn to the potential of the avocado industry after attending some conferences and learning a bit about the industry, and then I was presented with an opportunity to join NZ Avocado in a more diverse role.
“I was interested in the AvoGreen programme that NZ Avocado manages, as this is a more sustainable approach to pest management with a structured programme in place.”
Catherine’s current role at NZ Avocado is allowing her to gain hands-on experience and specialised knowledge in avocado cultivation, production and post-harvest processes, which have led to opportunities for advancement within the industry.
She is also responsible for AvoGreen pest monitoring programme, which she says ensures “quality standards, managing compliance, R&D support, and reporting”.
“I also provide support to our valued avocado growers, and other industry stakeholders.”
Catherine says the feedback she received from her speech at the World Avocado Congress was “overwhelmingly positive”.
“Many participants expressed interest in the comparison of NZ and their own country.
“Although we have the same fruit, we have some very different (and some similar) practices to our neighbouring market competitors, and they were eager to learn from our experiences. The exchange of knowledge and ideas with other industry leaders at the congress was both inspiring and enlightening.”
Catherine says young people are bringing fresh perspectives and a “drive for innovation” across the avocado industry.
“They are quick to adopt and implement advancements in agricultural technology, contributing to increased efficiency and sustainability. The industry is very fortunate to have many experienced and knowledgeable people who have been in the industry for a while and this provides an amazing opportunity for younger people to learn from this abundance of experience.”
On the current state of the industry, Catherine says although recent weather events have impacted avocado production in some regions, the industry is overall “optimistic” about the future and overcoming the recent challenges.
“The demand for avocados and their incredible health benefits is due to the fact that they are nutrient dense and contain at least 19 vitamins and nutrients, plus they taste great.”