The future leaders of Central Otago horticulture gathered in Cromwell on Friday to battle it out for the title of Central Otago Young Grower of the Year.

Five fruit and vegetable growers from around the region took part in six theoretical and practical modules to prove their horticultural skills and knowledge.

The title was taken by Gregoire Durand (29), a sector manager for Cherri Global, working out of Clyde and Roxburgh.

This was the second time he had taken part in the event.

Mr Durand said the competition was a good way to compare his knowledge of the field to that of others.

‘‘[It’s] a good learning experience,’’ he said.

‘‘I put in a lot of study in the leadup to the competition, because you just don’t know what you’re going to get.

‘‘Having a strong mathematics background really helped me in the irrigation section,’’ he said.

Second place went to Russell Benington of Darlings Orchard, and Tim Officer, of Dunstan Hills, was third.

Last year’s winner, Jacob Coombridge, said his win opened his eyes to how vast the horticulture industry was.

‘‘To come together, celebrate and compete really allows you to broaden your horizons and see what else is out there,’’ he said.

During the contest, he met ‘‘a lot of like-minded young people in the industry’’.

‘‘It gave me the opportunity to test skills against really knowledgeable growers.’’

He urged this year’s participants to make the most of the chance the competition gave them.

‘‘Grab the opportunity with both hands.

‘‘Be proud of what you’ve done — it’s well deserved.’’

The growers were tested on skills such as biosecurity, irrigation, pest control and weed management.

They also competed in the less formal ‘‘hortisports’’.

These included having to stack five pieces of fruit on each other, arrange M&Ms with a straw and shooting an apple off a mannequin’s head.

The event concluded with a gala dinner at which the competitors made speeches before the winner was announced.

Mr Durand will compete in the national final against five other growers from Pukekohe, Nelson, Bay of Plenty, Gisborne and Hawke’s Bay to become National Young Grower of the Year.

The final will be held in Pukekohe on October 4 and 5.

The winner of the National Young Grower of the Year title then competes in the Young Horticulturist of the Year.