Welcome to our December 2023 Newsletter

The 2023 Young Horticulturist Competition

The Royal New Zealand Institute of Horticulture Education Trust, are thrilled to announce Meryn Whitehead as the winner of the 2023 Young Horticulturist Competition! Also, a big congratulations to all our 2023 Finalists, they were exceptional in this years’ closely contested Competition.

Finalists from left to right: Meryn Whitehead (winner), Lydia O’Dowd, Caleb Washington, Tahryn Mason, Jason Gwynn, Sarah Ewe and Renee Johnson

This year we had seven Sector Finalists competing in the 2023 Competition held on November 7th & 8th followed by our Grand Final Awards Dinner on the evening of the 8th November at the Karaka Bloodstock, Auckland. This was the event’s seventeenth Competition.

The Competition is seen as a premier event in the Horticulture Industry, the Grand Final Awards Dinner is attended by over 220 guests representing a cross section of the Horticulture Industry including sponsors, suppliers, sector association representatives as well as finalist’s employers, friends and family. It was wonderful to celebrate this years’ 2023 Competition with 220 guests at the Awards Dinner.

Results from the 2023 Young Horticulturalist Competition

The 2023 Young Horticulturist Winners:


Meryn Whitehead

Meryn is the team co-ordinator for Vailima Orchard in Nelson


Renee Johnson

Renee is the Team Leader at Bark Ltd in Auckland


Lydia O’Dowd

Lydia is Head of Propagation at Southern Woods Nursery in Canterbury

The WOOLWORTHS (formerly COUNTDOWN) Innovation Project

First: Lydia O’Dowd. Lydia’s project Lydia’s revolved around integrated pest management and finding sustainable alternative methods to control pests and diseases in the Horticulture industry.

Second: Renee Johnson. Renee’s Labor supply management innovation is to help resolve labor shortage issues in the Horticulture industry and encourage youth into horticulture sooner as well as providing flexible labor for a seasonal industry.

Third: Meryn Whitehead. Meryn’s time tracking device is to help supervisors and team members, eliminating hours of calculating and providing motivation with bonuses

Other Completed WOOLWORTHS Innovation Projects

Sarah Ewe. Sarah’s Sarah created a base structure using stone fusion technology to help eliminate and reduce single use plastic in the Floristry industry.

Tahryn Mason. Tahryn’s project looked at subsurface irrigation creating a singular piece for end assembly specifically for subsurface irrigation in NZ Vineyards.

Jason Gwynn. Jason created chainsaw cut resistant socks inspired by known near misses where chainsaw safety boots failed and the unregulated use of chainsaws in NZ where the public don’t have to wear PPE gear.

Caleb Washington. Caleb’s Goom Rural, which is planting around farms, brings riparian planting to the next level where the garden carries on throughout the farm.

2023 Individual Award Winners

T&G Practical Components Award: Meryn Whitehead, for the highest overall practical activities score during the Grand Final. Meryn won a $3,500 travel scholarship.

Fruitfed Supplies Leadership Award: Meryn Whitehead. Meryn won a $2,500 scholarship towards a Leadership or Outward Bound course.

Bayer Best Practice Award: Meryn Whitehead, for the highest score in a range of Grand Final activities with a focus on crop management and sustainability practices receives a $2,500 scholarship.

RNZIH Best Speech Award: Lydia O’Dowd, winning a $1,000 cash award.

Horticentre Charitable Trust Sustainability Award: Sarah Ewe, who has the most active and/or significant engagement in improving sustainability outcomes, winning a $1,500 cash prize.

Countdown Best in Sector Award: Renee Johnson, winning a $3,000 cash prize.

Countdown Award: Each Finalist received a $500 award for perseverance and commitment to the competition.

The 2024 Competition and Grand Final Awards Dinner:

Planning is underway for the 2024 Competition and we look forward to confirming dates with you in our next newsletter.

To support the Competition, the Royal New Zealand Institute of Horticulture Education Trust welcomes any donations to assist this important and very worthwhile initiative, in the Horticulture Industry. Donations will assist with the costs to run the Competition each year. Individuals or companies interested in supporting the Competition please contact the Event Manager event.manager@younghort.co.nz

Professional Development Day:

In May 2024 we look forward to seeing our 2023 Finalists again as we host them for our post competition Professional Development Day at the Auckland Botanic Gardens.

This Professional Development Day encourages cross-sector networking opportunities and further development of leadership skills and connections with the Finalists.

A big thank you to our Community of Supporters for 2023

The Royal New Zealand Institute of Horticulture Education Trust would like to sincerely thank the following companies for their continued support this year helping to bring the 2023 Competition and Grand Final Awards Dinner to fruition. We couldn’t have made this year as successful as it was without your ongoing support.

Young Horticulturist Competition Official Partners: Countdown/Woolworths, T&G Fresh, Fruitfed Supplies.

Young Horticulturist Silver Sponsors: Bayer New Zealand, Trillian Trust, Horticentre Charitable Trust, Craigmore Services.

Young Horticulturist Competition Bronze Sponsors: Lincoln University, ANZ, Zealandia Horticulture, Bacho Tools.

Friends to the Competition: Royal NZ Institute of Horticulture, Bev McConnell, ICL, Auckland Botanic Gardens, Marisco Wine, Ecotricity, AEG Powertools, Watties, Hill Laboratories, Hort News, Icon Trees, Aorangi Merchants, New Zealand Wine, Norwood Industries and NZIAHS.

Goodie Bag Sponsors: Bahco, Bayer, Zealandia, Fruitfed Supplies, ICL, AEG Powertools, Aorangi Merchants and Lincoln University.

Event Management Update

As this year comes to a close, we are excited to have rolled out another wonderful year of the Young Horticulturist Competition. We are so proud of all our Finalists and wish them all the best on their journey’s.

A big thank you to all those new and who continue to contribute to the success of the Competition. Your support is invaluable to bringing to life and acknowledging the amazing young talent we have from across the country, coming up through the horticulture industry.

We look forward to seeing in the New Year and what’s in store for the 2024 Competition as the RNZIH Education Trust continue to look at exciting new ideas. We wish all of the sector Finalists all the very best for their Regional & National Competitions in the New Year and look forward to them being welcomed into the 2024 Competition.

We are excited to introduce Shona Willis who will be taking over the event and sponsorship management of the Competition from the Alcova Team for 2024. Hayley, Leanda & Lorraine have all thoroughly enjoyed working alongside all involved with such amazing talent, on this wonderful event. We have all loved the positive and very talented atmosphere the horticulture industries bring together and we are excited to see the Competition as it continues to evolve.

Wishing everyone a wonderful festive season, a very Merry Christmas and Happy and Successful New Year.

Photos, videos and news regarding our Finalists are being promoted on the Young Hort Facebook page and through Instagram on a regular basis.

Please visit and follow our page for updates on www.facebook.com/YoungHortNZ

On the Young Horticulturist website www.younghort.co.nz

You can contact the Event & Sponsorship Manager anytime on: event.manager@younghort.co.nz

The Competition is managed by the Royal New Zealand Institute of Horticulture Education Trust.