Whitney Conder

Orchard Manager of El Pedregal Orchard
Tell us about your background.

I hail from the deep south, my family were farmers in the Central Southland region. 5 years at Boarding school in North Otago and a stint and degree from Otago University i found i kept coming back to the land, working with it and getting my hands dirty. I started at the entry level into horticulture as a fruit picker during my summers as a uni student, the lifestyle really appealed to me, sparked something. I decided that branching off into Horticulture was something that I could really enjoy doing and still does. I can honestly say every part of running an orchard I have been involved in right across the field work to the packhouse and even office logistics. I took a break from Orchard life in 2014 and worked for Compac as an operator trainer. I specialized in small fruit sorters, mostly cherry graders. This job took me to many different places including the US, Canada, and South America. I worked with apples for growers in the Hawkes bay as well as Kiwifruit in the Bay of Plenty I have worked out that over the 17 years I have been a part of this industry I’ve started 27 different cherry seasons for someone/somewhere.

What do you do now?

I took on a role as an Orchard Manager and sole grower on a cherry block out of Clyde – Central Otago, it was daunting at the beginning when coming from a bigger grower who have teams of people to work with to then only just relying on yourself for all tasks and responsibilities, but it turned out to be exactly what I needed to do all along, and I only wish I did it sooner. I have learnt more in the last 2 years about myself and my abilities than I did over the previous 15
years. I have a staff of 1, me. I work what hours I need to get jobs done and timings right, I manage 6 hectares of cherries, on both centre leader and ufo tree training systems, I have around 1000 vines of pinot Noir and Pinot Gris grapes and 130 feijoa trees which do surprising well down here in our Central Otago climate.

How did you get that role? What was the pathway to that? What’s the best thing about your role?

Has to be the variety in the role, no two days are the same and neither are the views. I love working through the seasons and being able to use what skills I’ve gained to make the decisions on what to do next. Of course there will always be negatives to working in an outdoor role in a central Otago climate but I believe it makes me stronger as a person. 

Do you travel much for the role?

Not so much in this position but have been lucky enough to do cherry seasons in many different countries while working with Compac. Those were the trips that allowed me to work with some amazing, smart people along the way to give me valuable experience and set me up to where I am today.

If you have children how do/did you balance your job and family? What are/were the biggest issues? How did you deal with them?

I am a mother of 2 beautiful boys and started my family later in life. Honestly, Getting back into your main work roles again after Maternity leave is always emotional and in my opinion, getting back into horticulture work, as a grower, is another level. Leaving them with someone while getting back into your job is hard, even harder when your journey of even getting them in the first place hit every bump it could with two traumatic pregnancies. I had to make sure I was being fair to my family and myself but also continuing to still take part in something I love when It comes to working outdoors and being a fruit grower, giving the orchard what it needs to succeed as well. My husband and I have amazing family support for which we will always be grateful for and that support has played a huge role in allowing us to continue to do what we love.

Was being a woman a hindrance or a help in getting this role?

No, not at all. It’s definitely a role that has its challenges physically but I do alright and if I need help with anything I have neighboring fruit growers who are more than happy to help and offer advice.

Do you have any qualifications?

I finished a Bachelor of Arts at Otago University majoring in Geography and Tourism.
I’m a qualified Beekeeper and have trained in Primary ITOs national certificate in horticulture levels 3 and 4.

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

I had to make sure I was up to date with my growsafe and my certified handlers certificate as I am solely responsible for agricultural application and use. – Having an up to date First Aid certificate is always a good idea as well.

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

I believe everything for a reason and the steps I’ve taken in the past have led me to where I am now. hindsight is a wonderful thing but not to be dwelled on.

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

Take all opportunities and if you fail, learn from it and keep moving forward. Think about a time in your life that was hard but forced you to become better. You cannot grow as a person without struggle. You cannot get stronger without any resistance. And I think it’s important to realize that.

Are you on any Boards? If so which ones

Not yet… a near future goal for sure 😉

Anything else you’d like to add?

As much as I love the industry and it has shaped who I am today, for me it is about the connections made and how we use those connections, finding common ground and working together for the industry.