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Mr Darling (21) won the title at a formal function in Cromwell last Friday evening, following completion of several modules and a round of hortisports at the Otago Polytechnic Cromwell Campus.
There were six competitors from around the region and Mr Darling will go on to represent the region at the New Zealand Young Fruitgrower and Young Grower of the Year final in Napier on August 22.
Jonathan Bates (25), of Alexandra, who is a foreman for C and J van der Voort, in Roxburgh, was runner-up and third was Sam Hobbs (25), an orchard manager at Hobbs Family Partnership Orchard, also in Roxburgh.
A fourth-year law student in Dunedin, Mr Darling said there were some modules he did well in and others not so much, and he found the whole competition a little stressful.
''I felt under the pump.''
He spent many hours studying for the regional competition, including talking to his uncles, orchardists Stephen and Mark Darling, at Ettrick, and brother Matthew, who is a soil scientist and hydrologist.
He intends to use those resources again when studying for the national final in August.
However, he also intends to learn as much as he can, meet people and have a bit of fun while there.
His family owns the Moorpark and Mulberry Orchard near Lowburn, which grows heritage fruit varieties.
Since his family bought the Cromwell orchard years ago, he has spent most of his spare time working on the business, when not studying, skiing at the Ohau ski-field or whitewater and surf kayaking.
He is also a Territorial soldier and president of the Otago University Kayak Club.
''I found it [orchard work] really challenging and in particular I enjoy the problem-solving aspect,'' he said.
He said each day on the orchard was different.
His father Michael had open heart surgery a few years ago and he and his family looked after the orchard.
''That really secured my love for it and I realised that was what I wanted to do.''
Although he finds the law interesting, he does not think he will make a career of it.
''My law degree is interesting, definitely thought-provoking, and I will use it in one form or another in my career, one way or another, regardless of what I choose to do.
''Just where I will end up, I am not sure.''
He enjoys university, but at the same time, likes returning home at the weekends and holidays and getting out in the orchard.
''The further away I am, the more I miss it.''
-By Yvonne O'Hara