Horticulture

Plunkett Orchards orchard manager Jason Shields wins Grower of the Year award twice

By Rodney Woods

To be named Grower of the Year once in a week is a great achievement, but to do it twice is something else.

Plunkett Orchards orchard manager Jason Shields was named the apple and pear Grower of the Year on June 24, before taking out the Grower of the Year for all fruit and vegetable producers across the country at the Hort Connections Gala Dinner at Crown Casino on June 26.

He is the first apple and pear grower to take out the industry-wide award, which is the equivalent of the AFL’s Brownlow medal.

‘‘On Monday (June 24), I got the apple and pear Grower of the Year and then each body’s grower of the year are nominated for the Hort Connections award,’’ Mr Shields said.

‘‘I got the apple and pear one, which I was happy to get, but I can imagine getting that one, but I didn’t really imagine getting this one (the national award).

‘‘I hadn’t even booked a ticket to go. I had no idea when they rang me 10 days before, saying ‘you’ve been nominated, you better get a ticket’, I thought oh s***.’’

The award recognises an Australian grower who is outstanding across all aspects of production, innovation and actively contributes to the broader industry, and Mr Shields has done this in spades at the Ardmona business.

‘‘The reason I think I won it because it was a whole-systems package,’’ he said.

‘‘Yes, I brought in the platforms, which no-one else has done, but then I’ve also implemented IPM (integrated pest management), which no-one else is doing.

‘‘I’ve also, with this other company, built this software package that’s all on phones that no-one else is doing.

‘‘I haven’t just done one of them, I’ve implemented the whole system altogether and then the other key to it was — I tell everyone about it.

‘‘Most people go and do this and they think they have the new secret and they try and keep it a secret.

‘‘From what I gather, that was the reasoning behind it.’’

Mr Shields said without the financial backing of Plunkett Orchards and the support of his staff, he would not have won either award.