IT HAS been a busy few weeks in our region with plenty of opportunities to celebrate life in rural and provincial New Zealand.

At the beginning of March, Taihape hosted its annual Gumboot Day with great support from both locals and visitors. The highly contested main event, the men's and women's gumboot throwing competition, provided plenty of entertainment for spectators.

The top throwers qualified for the North Island Champs, which were held as part of the Hilux Rural Games in Palmerston North last weekend. Billed as New Zealand's premier celebration of rural sports, it really was a great family weekend featuring traditional sports, entertainment and heaps of opportunities to have a go.

The Rural Games got off to an exciting start in Feilding on Friday afternoon with the "Running of the Wools" — hundreds of sheep herded through the centre of town provided a real spectacle and there were plenty of fun competitive events run in conjunction with the livestock invasion.


Of course this week the focus is on the Central Districts Field Days, which is New Zealand's largest regional agricultural event.

Manfeild Park will again be transformed into a small town with over 570 exhibitors on site and around 30,000 visitors expected to pass through the gates to experience the best of rural New Zealand — with everything from machinery and new technology to finance and food on offer.

The Field Days run from tomorrow — Thursday, March 15 — through until Saturday, and I'd recommend you check them out if you can.

It's a great day out and a fantastic opportunity to learn more about what's happening in the world of agribusiness. It's also another excellent opportunity for us to showcase our region as about half the people attending are from out of town.

Meanwhile the National Party's change in leadership following the announcement of Bill English's retirement has been seamless.

A robust contest between five strong and capable candidates resulted in the election of Simon Bridges, who will make an excellent leader of The Opposition. He has the full support of our 56-strong caucus, and I'm am certainly looking forward to getting stuck in with my two new spokesperson portfolios, fisheries and racing.

It is essential that our fishing industry continues to develop sustainable practices and we ensure our oceans remain healthy for future generations. We are a collection of small islands in the middle of vast seas and our very existence depends on it.

The racing industry is one that has always been close to my heart.

Our climate for horse breeding in New Zealand is the envy of other nations across the world, and our many success stories are a testament to this. Both championing these successes, and building on them to ensure the future of this important industry, are key to its future success.

This year will bring with it many opportunities and challenges, and I am excited to be a member of a team who are a government-in-waiting, ready to tackle 2020 head-on. I'm also proud to live in heartland New Zealand and will continue to represent the interests of our region in Wellington and at home.

Central Districts Field Days: See the special feature in Thursday's Chronicle, and report and photos in Saturday's paper.

Ian McKelvie is the MP for Rangitikei