Opinion: The talented and hard working finalists in the FMG Young Farmer of the Year contest can teach us all to be the inspiration to others about agricultural careers, Dr Jacqueline Rowarth writes.
Be the inspiration.
Be the inspiration for more people to understand the importance of the primary sector and get involved in the very many different areas of employment. People need food and New Zealand is a leader in sustainable agriculture.
This was the message throughout the Young Farmer of the Year Competition last week.
The commitment of New Zealand youth to the primary sector was showcased from Thursday to Saturday night in Christchurch.
Primary schoolers (Agrikids), high school competitors (Junior Young Farmers) and agri-professionals (Young Farmer of The Year Competition) showed their skills and abilities in competitions ranging from teamwork wheelbarrow races through fencing, to speed on the buzzer.
The determination was clear in all the competitors and the relief at the completion of each task was felt by everybody.
Learning, skill development, motivation, persistence, support, planning and overall organisation of a great many parts came together on the stage.
Friday night was buzzer-hitting for the Junior Young Farmers at Christchurch Town Hall. On Saturday night the Young Farmer of the Year Grand Final was at Wigram, with presentation of awards to the winning Agrikids and Junior Young farmer of the Year as well.
The excitement was a delight.
For all competitors and their supporters, the final represented months of work leading up – through regional finals earlier in the year and even more district competitions before that.
Everybody cheered when the winners were announced. Many people felt the disappointment of the other competitors who had thrown heart and soul into the competition.
To be the Young Farmer of the Year takes academic abilities (there are farm management focussed exams), innovation (there is a significant module on a new business plan) and practical skills (from combine harvesters to setting up a farmlet with fences and water troughs).
It also takes a sense of humour when you know you've totally stuffed up in front of the audience, and the grit to start again.
The competitors were impressive, assisted throughout, by Te Radar's unfailing positivity.
But it was the three-minute speeches on Friday night that will stay in the minds of the audience.
The topics were set in advance for the first time. Contestants could choose between "The most important innovation in my sector", "What sustainable agriculture means to me" and "What I wish non-farmers knew about farming".
Jake Jarman, crowned Young Famer of the Year 2021 the following night, spoke on his wishes.
The tears in the audience were real.
On Saturday night, people were still talking about the impact of those three minutes.
I wish that people who live in towns could know… that New Zealand farmers are the most innovative and efficient in the world, the fact that they care, and that the range of careers in agriculture is from the soil through to the markets.
Jake asked that we become the inspiration to non-farmers about careers.
Joseph Watts, who came second in the overall competition, wished that non-farmers could know about the total engagement of the senses that is enabled in farming – the sound of the lamb, the sight of the dogs working, the smell of shearing, the feeling of rolling around in the hay with your partner… and the taste of home-grown lamb.
He wished that non-farmers could know how much farmers care about their land, their animals and their people, and the quality of what they produce.
Calvin Ball, third overall, defined sustainability as planet, people and profit – his message was that if the combination was achieved, we would be able to recruit the next generation of farmers and ensure that New Zealand continues to flourish.
Listen to Jamie Mackay interview Dr Jacqueline Rowarth on The Country below:
In rural areas we know that communities are dependent on the work that farmers do, whether directly or by supporting their partners to be on the school board or coach the sports teams while they finish feeding out.
We know that the economy depends upon farmers being able to manage the natural resources sustainably, as they have been doing for over 150 years, to enable development in education and health and infrastructure.
The success of what has been achieved so far is shown in the identification of large swathes of New Zealand as Significant Natural Areas (SNAs).
Northland has declared 42 per cent of the land as SNA and other regions appear to be entering the competition to have the greatest potential area protected.
New Zealand is beautiful. No other country has managed to reach "first world" status on a bioeconomy – where production from the primary sector dominates.
And while there have been some unintended consequences, such as nutrients in waterways, this next generation of young farmers is determined to create solutions.
The top three of the contestants this year are agribusiness professionals (banking, field rep and fertiliser). Two started life on a farm, and the other saw the light…
They will be the inspiration to others about careers.
But so can we all.
What does the world need and how do your interests align?
Ask the question and you will find the role. And then you, too, can be the inspiration.
• Dr Jacqueline Rowarth is an adjunct professor with Lincoln University and a farmer-elected director on the Boards of DairyNZ and Ravensdown. She was also a judge on the final night of the Young Farmer of the Year Competition. The analysis and conclusions above are her own. firstname.lastname@example.org