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Cutting edge .. Ben Geaney won the pruning section on the way to taking the title. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

Makikihi orchardist Ben Geaney is the 2017 Central Otago Young Fruit Grower of the Year.

The 29-year-old earned the title in Cromwell last Friday, competing against three other finalists in a series of practical challenges designed to see if they have the skills to run a thriving horticulture business.

Mr Geaney, who has a diploma in mechanical engineering, gained top marks in pruning, tractors and machinery, and irrigation. He drew with Alexandra finalist Adam Low in the latter.

Cromwell contestant Waka Paul won the prize for best speech and was second overall, while Ellen Watt from Waitaki Orchard near Kurow was third overall.

Mr Geaney worked in Australia before returning to his parents’ Makikihi apple orchard. He said the competition had been a great opportunity to test his horticultural and business skills.

“I’m excited to represent Waimate fruit growers at the national final in August,” he said.

Mr Geaney’s prize includes a professional development tour of a growing region of his choice, $1500 cash and an all-expenses-paid trip to the 2017 Young Grower of the Year in Christchurch in August.

There he will compete against three other regional Young Fruit Grower winners and the Young Vegetable Grower winner for the supreme title.

The competition, now in its 11th year, is run by Horticulture New Zealand.