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Concentration . . . Ellen Watt focuses on the Waterforce Theory module during the Young Fruitgrower of the Year contest in Cromwell. PHOTO: IVOR EARP-JONES

Initiative plus persistence is a winning formula for Kurow orchardist Ellen Watt.

The 23-year-old won the Central Otago Young Fruitgrower of the Year competition in Cromwell last Friday.

She and five other contenders completed a series of challenges designed to test the skills needed to run a successful orchard, including irrigation and calibration, pest and disease identification, tractor maintenance and first aid. In the evening, they gave speeches.

Miss Watt won prizes for the calibration, first aid and speech modules before receiving the overall title.

She is a member of the family that runs Waitaki Orchards, just east of Kurow – the second of Justin and Julie Watt’s eight children, most of whom were home schooled and still live and work on the 32ha orchard.

Miss Watt co-manages the packhouse, oversees the spraying programme and organises compliance audits.

She spends most Friday mornings in a commercial kitchen installed on the orchard, making items such as sorbets, galettes, crumbles, cheesecakes and chutneys to sell at the farmers’ market in Dunedin on Saturdays.

Miss Watt attended baking school in Timaru for a year and took nearly a year to complete her food compliance qualification.

After entering the fruitgrower competition in 2016 and 2017, placing third in the latter, she tried again this year to “see how it went”.

“It turned out quite well,” she said on Friday night. “I’m really stoked to have won.

“Coming in this morning I had no idea how it was going to go, but I got more confident through the day and I guess that paid off.

“I’m definitely glad I gave it a go; this is a great way to really get young people working together.”

Second place went to Tim Officer, of Dunstan Hills, Alexandra, and Lyssa Jones, of Timaru’s MA Orchards, was third.

Miss Watt will progress to the 2019 Young Grower of the Year in Tauranga on October 1 and 2, where she will compete against four other regional fruitgrowers and two vegetable growers.

“Horticulture is growing and changing, and how we grow has to change with it,” Horticulture New Zealand vice-president Bernadine Guilleux said.

“People like Ellen and the other competitors are the ones that will bring us into tomorrow. We have some really exciting times ahead.”