The journey of New Zealand’s high quality nutritious food from farmer to fork is what drives Agcarm’s horticultural scholarship winner, Alexandra Tomkins in her goal to be a leader in food production.
The Massey University student is in her third year of a Bachelor of AgriCommerce degree and will put her winnings towards her student loan, which she says is “fairly daunting”.
Growing up in New Zealand, Singapore and Thailand before finishing her school studies in New Zealand, Tomkins says that, as New Zealanders, we don’t realise how good our produce is – that high quality is the norm. She intends to share New Zealand’s story and encourage the food industry to be more consumer-centric and sustainable.
“I’m passionate about the New Zealand primary industries; putting our high quality and nutritious products on the world stage.” She would like to be a leader in New Zealand’s food production industry, encouraging the industry to be even more consumer driven, producing high quality products sustainably, and sharing the New Zealand story. “I’m particularly interested in supply chain management and logistics; getting a product from the farm gate to final consumers around the world.”
Her interest in horticulture was ignited when living in Asia for six of her schooling years. “Seeing NZ quality horticultural products in supermarkets, particularly kiwifruit, sparked my interest in the NZ primary industries and horticulture,” she says. Once she returned to New Zealand, living in the Bay of Plenty for the last two years of high school, she was exposed to the large scale of the kiwifruit industry. She witnessed first-hand the drive of growers to place “quality horticultural products in household fruit bowls all over the globe”. She also became aware of the ability of technology and data management to shape the future of horticulture and increase production efficiency.
Horticulture has huge growth potential and many opportunities, but this comes with challenges - seasonal labour shortages, increasing demand for land, water restrictions, increasing policy standards, plastic packaging, climate change, and a growing urban-rural divide. “Overcoming these challenges is no small task which will require constant collaboration,” she says.
At 20, Tomkins already has several accolades behind her. In January, she went to Thailand as part of a Prime Minister’s Scholarship for Asia AgriBusiness study trip and, last year, participated in the inaugural industry funded International Horticulture Immersion Programme (IHIP) study trip to Europe and Korea. This, she says, exposed her to “the sophistication of international horticulture from advanced growing technologies, cutting edge plant breeding, and the huge scale of horticulture”.
“Visiting the Zespri Europe head office and the Antwerp port distribution centre for ENZA apples, I was exposed to the offshore supply chain of NZ apples and kiwifruit”. An excursion with Zespri Korea around Seoul allowed her to see the whole supply chain from re-pack, retail, marketing, and consumer insight. ”The IHIP trip gave me a new perspective on global horticulture and NZ’s position as leading fruit producers.”
Tomkins was selected as a Massey Business School Future Leaders scholar to develop her leadership skills. She is the President of the Massey Horticulture Society and last year won the academic section of the inaugural ‘Massey Rural Student of the Year’. Most recently, the eager student was selected as an emerging leader contributor for the KPMG 2020 Food & Fibre Agenda roundtable discussion.
In her spare time, she enjoys netball and volunteers at events to encourage high school students into the primary industries. As a career, horticulture has “so many awesome opportunities” as well as scholarship options, says Tomkins.
Agcarm chief executive Mark Ross says that the association is proud to support such a dedicated, enthusiastic, bright and bubbly person, and believes that she will do well as a leader in the industry. “It’s rewarding to see such enthusiasm for horticulture and we wish Alexandra every success in her chosen path,” he says.