Tuesday, 13 February 2024 14:25

Mataura farmer first grand finalist in young farmer comp

Written by  Staff Reporters
Zac Thomas competing in a head-to-head challenge. Photo Supplied. Zac Thomas competing in a head-to-head challenge. Photo Supplied.

29-year-old sheep, beef and arable farmer Zac Thomas is the first grand finalist in this year’s FMG Young Farmer of the Year competition after winning the Otago Southland FMG Young Farmer of the Year competition last weekend.

Thomas was named winner of the Otago Southland competition on Saturday evening after two days of competition and will now battle it out against six other regional finalists in the grand final which will take place in Hamilton in July.

The weekend’s event was one of seven Regional Finals happening across New Zealand between February and April.

Details of what challenges would be thrown at them at the Otago Southland event were kept under wraps from the 27 contestants.

“I came into the weekend with no expectations, so to get the win was an awesome surprise,” Thomas says.

A stock manager on his family’s sheep, beef and arable farm near Mataura, he is no stranger to the Young Farmer scene, with this being his third attempt to make the Grand Final.

He also convened the 2022 Otago Southland FMG Young Farmer of the Year regional final and is an active member of the Waitane Young Farmers Club.

“It’s a bit surreal to get the win, the biggest challenge was making sure I kept calm,” Thomas says. “I took on each challenge as it came up, and didn’t worry about what had already been done.”

Saturday’s last challenge of the day, the head-to-head was a highlight, with over 200 spectators watching on as contestants were put through their paces.

Working side-by-side, they had 30 minutes to work their way through a farm accident scenario including completing first aid on a casualty, removing a tree from a road, putting up a temporary fence, and more.

“I really enjoyed the head-to-heads this year, they were a good mix of mental and physical challenge, it was the perfect amount of suffering and a good show for the crowd,” Thomas says.

He says he has yet to plan his grand final approach but in the lead-up will be focusing on filling knowledge and skill gaps.

Thomas Slee, 26, from Nightcaps Young Farmers placed second, with Sam Anderson, 30, from Thornbury Young Farmers securing the final spot on the podium. 

The next generation of young farmers also took part in Saturday’s competition, with Shamus Young and Hayden Drummond of Otago Boys’ High School taking out the title of Otago Southland FMG Junior Young Farmers of the Year. The Hauroko Valley Primary School Southern Boys team made up of Oliver Chamberlain (12), Tomas Clarke (12) and Sam Horrell (12) were the Otago Southland AgriKidsNZ winners. 

Jessie McFadzien and Chonelle Ayson from Maruawai College placed second in the FMG Junior Young Farmer of the Year Competition. 

 Runner-up and third in the AgriKidsNZ contest were the Winton Cowboys made up of Spencer White (12), Zephrin Latchford (12) and Maddox Whitaker (12) and the Heddon Bush Heroes made up of Harri Hogg (12), Isabelle Hogg (12) and Alex Shallue (12).

They have also been invited to July’s FMG Young Farmer of the Year Grand Final.  

 New Zealand Young Farmers Chief Executive Lynda Coppersmith says this year’s Grand Final is shaping up to be one of the best yet.

“Every year we continue to be blown away by the caliber of our FMG Young Farmer of the Year contestants, from our AgriKidsNZ participants through to those vying for the regional FMG Young Farmer of the Year title. Their knowledge, skills and passion for the industry is impressive and certainly leaves us excited for the future of our industry,” Coppersmith says.

 New Zealand’s primary sector exports were worth more than $57 billion in the year to June 2023, accounting for 81.9% of New Zealand’s merchandise exports. NZ Young Farmers has been part of the backbone of this primary industry for nearly 100 years, nurturing and supporting talent while growing connected communities.

Coppersmith says it’s the regional communities and volunteers who have made the FMG Young Farmer of the Year the prestigious event it is today.

“We simply couldn’t do it without the tireless work of our committees and volunteers. These are people who support us year in, year out, and we’re incredibly grateful to everyone who has played a part.” 

The FMG Young Farmer of the Year Contest is supported by FMG, Ravensdown, WorkSafe, Ministry for Primary Industries, Milwaukee, Woolworths, Honda, Lincoln University, Massey University, PTS Logistics, New Holland and Bushbuck.  

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