AVOCO provides $5000 to one worthy tertiary student each year to encourage research and study in subjects that could benefit New Zealand’s avocado industry. The recipient of the 2020 AVOCO scholarship is Alex Tomkins.

A former Tauranga student, Alex is studying a Bachelor of AgriCommerce at Massey University, majoring in International Agribusiness and minoring in Horticulture.

The 20-year-old will complete her third year of study in 2020 and is grateful to AVOCO for its financial support in what will be an exciting final year achieving her undergraduate degree.

“My favourite papers last year were around understanding the agribusiness value chain and international supply chain management,” says Alex.

“In the future, I can see myself being involved in the post-harvest supply chain, or in developing new global markets. AVOCO is already an industry leader in these areas so it’s great to have a connection with them as a university student.”

As well as studying, Alex is also an active member of Massey University’s Horticulture Society, and is serving this year as its President. Along with hosting social events, the society helps build connections between students, lecturers and horticulture industry stakeholders, to help students make decisions around their career options.

Alex, however, got an early introduction to the principles of international marketing when she lived in Thailand and Singapore with her family. As a young student, she had work experience where she remembers learning about the premium positioning of New Zealand food products in retail stores.

“Those experiences stuck with me so when we returned to New Zealand, I decided to focus on studying Agriculture and Horticulture, as well as Economics at Bethlehem College,” she says.

Dedicated to her studies at Massey University, she has excelled academically and last year was named Rural Student of the Year in the academic section. She was also selected for the International Horticultural Immersion Programme, a study tour that saw her travel with other young leaders to Europe and Asia.

“In Europe, we were exposed to the advanced mechanisation and huge scale of horticulture, particularly glasshouse technology. We also saw how Europe has a strong commitment to innovation, collaboration and sustainability within the industry.

“A key insight was that New Zealand tends to be more risk averse to innovation compared to Europe, which is a barrier for future productivity and an area where more investment is needed.”

Over summer, Alex spent time in Thailand with other Massey and Lincoln University students selected for the 2020 Prime Minister’s Scholarship for Asia. The Agribusiness summer study trip exposed students to supply chain systems for various crops, including rice and bananas.

Alex says she learned that rice, as with most export products, had exceptionally high quality standards at every step in the supply chain. “There are sensory tests for size and texture and very strict measures for what did not meet export requirements.

“Being able to meet the expectations of the consumer is a consideration at every level.

“It’s the same for growers in New Zealand. I’ve worked on a kiwifruit orchard in the past so I know how much work and pride goes into producing food for export.

“I can’t wait to graduate and eventually work in the horticulture industry where I can play a role in helping growers feed the world and enhance New Zealand’s international reputation for excellence.”