On Thursday the first ever winners of the Hawke’s Bay Horticulturist of the Year Award, Leon and Robyn Stallard welcomed industry representatives and friends onto their orchard. The sponsorships involved EIT supporting the Field Day and Horticentre looking after the award. “It is an honour and a privilege to receive the award and I have to thank Robyn who was the one to enter our orchard into the competition,” Leon said. Peter Tod, Chairman of the Hawke’s Bay A&P Society and Anna Lorck who represented the judging panel honoured the Stallards for their outstanding performance regarding innovation, resilience, leadership, education and advocacy. “They have the complete package and always go the extra mile,” Peter stressed. “It definitely takes courage to enter and be benchmarked against peers.” Four years ago they won the ENZA award for the best Jazz apple crop and in 2019 they received the horticulture industry services award. According to Leon, the success of the orchard is also owed to the investment in new technologies. They recently installed a harvest weather station, windmills for frost protection and a new irrigation system. Leon also took the visitors on a tour through the blossoming 18ha orchard which produces six to seven million apples a year. Leon also looked back on their difficult start as an orchardist 25 years ago. “From 20 orchardists in a 20km radius, there are only two left. But we were too proud to give up.” Martin Taylor, Horticentre technical field representative, gave an interesting insight into the characteristics of the orchard, the challenges of the local microclimate (with slightly lower temperatures), soil science and quality control. EIT Executive Director – Marketing Brenda Chapman said that EIT was proud to sponsor the inaugural Field Day. “We are keen to work closely with industry and we have recently set up an advisory committee. The committee will help guide new programme development and provide us with input so we remain relevant to your changing industry.” For instance, the new EIT Diploma in Horticulture, with three strands – Fruit Production, Nursery Production and Post-Harvest Production was developed in close collaboration with industry.