Joseph Watts is hoping for a hometown advantage when he competes in this year's FMG Young Farmer of the Year Grand Final in Hawke's Bay. It's the Waipukurau technical field representative's first shot at the prestigious title.
Joseph Watts is a self-confessed former city boy who didn't learn the difference between a ewe and a ram until he was 23.
He's come a long way in the last five years, and in April was named the East Coast FMG Young Farmer of the Year.
"I'm pretty stoked. I did a lot of preparation in the lead up to the regional final, so it was a relief to get over the line," he said.
The 28-year-old is the oldest of eight children. He grew up in Palmerston North and didn't know much about agriculture.
"I was a full-on townie," said Watts, who studied a Bachelor of Sport and Exercise Science at Massey University.
He played squash competitively and represented New Zealand between 2008 and 2013, achieving a world ranking of 169.
A turning point in Watts' life came in 2013, when his then girlfriend and now wife Lucy Dowsett - who's a vet - got her first job.
The couple moved to Raetihi, near Ohakune.
"If it wasn't for Lucy I wouldn't be in the position I am today. I got to Raetihi and fell in love with the primary industries," he said.
Watts made the decision to give up playing professional squash and forge a new career in the agri-food sector.
He completed a Certificate in Science and Technology and a Graduate Diploma in Rural Studies at Massey University.
While he was studying, Watts spent two years working as a shearer around Taihape and Raetihi.
"I loved shearing. It was hard on my back, but that's because I was a bit soft," he laughed.
"I would have liked to have kept doing it for a few more years, but I didn't want to be 30 and starting another new career."
The couple headed to Waipukurau in central Hawke's Bay in 2016.
They now live on a 12 hectare block of land and Watts works as a technical field representative for PGG Wrightson.
His job is to help farmers with their cropping and pasture needs.
"The majority of my job – I'd say 95 per cent of it – is walking through crops and helping to look after them," said Watts.
A growing number of sheep and beef farmers are turning to crops as they try to push the limits on per hectare production.
"Farmers who might have previously run mainly pasture-based systems now seem to be more open to growing winter and summer feed crops," he said.
Brassicas are the crop of choice on the East Coast.
"Pallaton Raphno, which is a cross between kale and a radish, has gone exceptionally well in central Hawke's Bay," he said.
"It's a drought tolerant, multi-graze brassica that really seems to suit the East Coast conditions quite well."
The crop was released commercially last spring. It has the ability to persist for four to five grazings over a 12 month period.
Trials found it had a 14 per cent increased yield advantage over goliath forage rape in a multi-graze system.
"It's a crop that I think will kick on quite well on the East Coast over the next few years," he said.
Central Hawke's Bay's hot and dry climate means Watts' workload is full of variety.
He said a number of sheep and beef farmers had taken advantage of higher grain prices by planting cash crops of barley.
Watts predicts there will be a surge in demand for Ecotain if its benefits are recognised by nutrient modelling software Overseer.
Ecotain is a drought tolerant forage crop, proven to reduce nitrogen leaching from a urine patch.
"There's already a lot of Ecotain in the ground because the data is there to back up its benefits," he said.
Watts is a member of Tikokino Young Farmers and credits the club with helping him make new connections.
"The one thing I love about our club is that everyone is welcome – you don't have to be a farmer to belong. We have quite a few members who live in town," he said.
Watts is excited about being the hometown finalist when the FMG Young Farmer of the Year Grand Final is held in Hawke's Bay in July.
"I'd like to think I will have a bit of an advantage because it will be easier to rally local support," he said.
Expect him to draw on his background as a professional sportsman.
"I think being in the right mental headspace is the most important thing. When you're competing at a high level in sport, being mentally in the game is a huge part of it," he said.
It's a challenge Watts – who admits to being naturally competitive – will thrive on.
Name: Joseph Watts
Region: East Coast
Occupation: Technical field representative
- The FMG Young Farmer of the Year Grand Final runs from 4 th -6 th July in Hawke's Bay.