There are no young Whanganui farmers competing to be New Zealand's best in 2018 — but local man Allan Anderson was the country's Young Farmer of the Year back in 1970.

"It really catapulted me into public life, and I have no regrets about that," he said.

The Manawatu/Taranaki regional final of the FMG Young Farmer of the Year takes place in Wellington on February 24, at Crawford Green in Miramar. It covers a very big lower North Island region and the eight finalists include a former cocktail bar waiter, an award-winning contract milker and a drone-flying dry stock farmer.

Three of them are members of the large Marton Young Farmers' Club. One of them is its chairman, Taranaki's Dairy Trainee of the Year for 2015, Michael McCombs.


The Whanganui Young Farmers' Club has 15 members and no finalists. The members have rural backgrounds and mostly work in Whanganui, chairwoman Samantha Bills said. They will travel to Wellington for the regional final.

It's a complete contrast to the situation in 1970, when a 29-year-old Allan Anderson was one of 30 to 50 members of a Westmere young farmers group and there were plenty of other groups in the region.

He and his friend Bob Marshall bought 723ha at Orangimea in the Waitotara Valley when they were in their 20s. The farm had 500 sheep, 30 cattle and a lot of reverting bush.

They cleared it, sleeping in tents, and were featured in a Country Calendar programme.

Mr Anderson entered the very first national young farmer competition in 1969. It was a radio quiz that was broadcast, and he went to Palmerston North for it. He lost his voice that day, and could only whisper.

When he entered again in 1970 the contestants had to answer oral questions in public and write a 500-word essay. The first round was in New Plymouth, and he was very nervous. Luckily for him, he was asked questions he could answer.

"It was nothing short of a miracle that I actually got through that night, but I did by quite a margin," he said.

The North Island final was in Hamilton, and four people went forward to the national final in Christchurch. Mr Anderson flew down there — his first time on a plane.

When he won, there was a big bottle of champagne waiting in his hotel and lots more publicity than winners get now. "The Whanganui papers went crazy about it."

Part of his prize was a tractor. It didn't suit his steep Waitotara Valley farm, so he took a cheque instead. His fellow competitors were given gumboots — from the competition sponsor, Skellerup.

Mr Anderson and his wife, Rosemary, also got a trip to Australia, with five nights in the Sydney Travelodge, and $500 spending money.

"It was a lot of money, I thought."

The two extended their stay, leaving a 14-month-old daughter at home. They spent a week at Surfers Paradise and Mr Anderson worked on a cattle station at Rockhampton to top up their finances.

He wrote articles for the Wanganui Chronicle while he was away and was asked to speak at many public occasions. Back home he and Mr Marshall developed their farm into what was then New Zealand's biggest ram breeding operation. They enlarged it and could eventually finish 10,000 sheep.

Mr Anderson could never compete in a young farmer contest again, because he was over the age limit. But he has followed their progress.

The practical skills side was added after a period when the contest became overly academic, he said.

"Only academics could win it. There were people winning it that weren't really farmers."

He did well in the practical skills of his time but would struggle with the more technical skills farmers need now.

"I couldn't pull a quad apart and put it back together — things like that."