Ellen Watt

Waitaki Orchards
Tell us about your background.

My parents purchased Waitaki Orchards Ltd in Kurow, North Otago, when I was seven and we made the move down from Patumehoe. After growing up on the orchard, I concluded that there was nothing I wanted less in life than to become an orchardist. This changed after I finished school and started work. My parents both faced health issues, which led to two of my sisters and I stepping up in the business in ways that we probably wouldn’t have otherwise done.
Working on the family orchard has exposed me to a wide range of tasks and given me a broad understanding of what it takes to run an orchard.

What’s the best thing about your role?

I love the diversity in horticulture, how no two days are the same (unless you’re pruning). I love meeting other growers and hearing their passion for our industry.

Do you have any qualifications?

As part of our diversification into processing, I trained as a baker for one year. I have no formal training in the orchard side of things. This has all come from on-the-job learning.

If you had your time again would you do anything different?

If I could do it all again, I would have liked to spend a few years working on another orchard – or even in another industry. As I think this would have provided a wider range of experiences to draw from.

Have you received any awards? Can you tell us a little about them

In 2019, I won the Central Otago Young Grower competition. This qualified me to compete in the national Young Grower competition, which was a fantastic opportunity to meet other people within the industry and learn more about horticulture, as well being a great opportunity for personal development.

What do you do now?

My current role on the orchard includes overseeing our spray program, overseeing our compliance programs, and co-managing the packhouse during harvest. We are also moving into fruit processing, creating a range of summerfruit sorbets using fruit that is too soft or damaged to sell to the supermarkets. Diversifying our business spreads out the risk in case of a severe weather event, as well as making what we grow more sustainable. Stepping into fruit processing has been a hugely frustrating process at times, but it is also incredibly satisfying to look at our end product range.

Do you travel much for the role ?

My role is mostly on-orchard. However, as we have gotten into processing, this has involved some travel for marketing calls and product demonstrations. These are usually day-trips.

Did you require any specific education or training for this role?

I completed an AsureQuality training course so I could become the QC in the packhouse. I have also attended GrowSafe and Certified Handler courses for the spraying.

Do you have any advice/tips for other women wanting a role like yours?

My advice for woman wanting to get into horticulture would be to complete any task that you’re given, and do it to the best of your ability. Willingness to do even the most mundane of tasks (and yes, there are a few of them in horticulture) does not go unnoticed.