Aaron Finlay - Senior leading hand at T&G
Got a Trade Hero Aaron Climbs the Apple Tree’s Ladder to Success
As a 12 year-old, Aaron Finlay took his first small steps towards a career in orcharding without even realising.
The young school boy landed a part-time job cleaning a fruit packhouse near Nelson – picking up discarded apples, sweeping the floor, and doing odd jobs.
Despite this early introduction, he never planned to become an orchardist. After high school he took a job on an apple orchard to save money for a dairy farming course. “But I ended up loving being outdoors and working with apple trees so I stayed where I was.”
Fourteen years on, Aaron is now a Senior Leading Hand on a 160ha orchard in Riwaka, just north of Motueka. He helps oversee four full time staff and up to 40 part-timers during the apple harvest season.
Aaron has studied with Primary ITO while working full time, and has consequently picked up a wide variety of skills which allowed him to rise through the ranks.
“My day-to-day job involves pretty much everything – mowing, mulching, spraying and constant repairs to the tractors. I also oversee the pruning and canker crews to make sure everything is being done correctly and they don’t need any help or supplies. I like to pass my knowledge on to others so they understand what they’re doing and why.”
Aaron has honed his skills to the point he was named runner-up at this year’s Nelson Young Fruit Grower competition. “That was huge for me. I was shocked when they called my name, but I had scored consistent results for each task throughout the day. I was stoked.”
The appeal of orcharding, he says, is looking at the big picture and seeing how your actions affect the growth of the tree over subsequent years.
“It’s like a big puzzle. There are so many factors at play like the weather, pollination, bi-annual bearing and pruning.
If you prune too hard, the next year the tree will retaliate and throw out hundreds of branches. It’s very challenging and there’s a big variety of jobs and tasks to do. Every day can be different.”
Like other horticultural industries, growing apples is also becoming very high tech.
“There’s massive technology developments coming through orchards at the moment which is really exciting. This year we hope to get a new automated picking machine that will pick 24 hours a day.” Other developments on the Riwaka orchard, owned by T&G, include a new multi-million dollar optical grading system, automated bin cards, digital trap logs to record bugs and pests, and a new app which analyses the ‘colour aspect’ of apples on the trees to help decide whether they’re ready to pick.
“With some varieties of apple, like Envy, it’s very hard for the human eye to detect the colour difference as the apple ripens. This will make it much easier which is pretty cool.”
Looking back, Aaron is more than happy with the career path he chose. As the youngest of five siblings, Aaron says his parents were very relaxed and never pushed him in any particular direction. “I think the most important thing to ask yourself is ‘what are you going to be happy doing?’
“I’ve always been a hands-on, outdoors person. I’ve heard people say that orchardists make a lot of money for doing very little. But that shows a complete lack of understanding about what’s involved. With orcharding you learn every day and I want to carry on learning and improve my skills as much as possible.”
Aaron has now has almost completed a Diploma in Horticulture.
“Orcharding is a very challenging but rewarding career. I love it and one day I hope to manage a block of my own.”