A half-century of Young Farmer of the Year

By Ryan Willoughby

Gerard Lynch, pictured wearing the cloak of knowledge, was Young Farmer of the Year in 1983.

It’s the rural competition that become recognisable to all of New Zealand. The Young Farmer of the Year contest turns 50 in 2018. Ryan Willoughby looks back.

The FMG Young Farmer of the Year competition celebrates 50 years of supporting our best and brightest, and Massey has been there through it all.

The contest, which started out as a national radio quiz, has undergone many changes over the years. Yet, it has always been known for bringing together the best young farmers from around the regions, competing in mental and physical challenges, with the hope of representing their respective regions in the grand final.

Massey has sponsored the event for three years and also puts up the prize for the Massey University Agri-Growth Challenge – won last year by Lisa Kendall from south Auckland.

The grand final will be in Invercargill in July and features many special celebrations to mark the 50th anniversary, including an exhibition of memorabilia, a book, and a function to celebrate past winners and grand finalists – including many Massey alumni.

Matt Bell, a placegetter in 2013, went on to take the top prize two years later.

Massey flatmates and participants in last year’s final, Richard French, James Lawn and Hamish Best are expected to be there. Best finished runner-up last year to Milton sheep and beef farmer, Nigel Woodhead.

Notable alumni include Gerard Lynch, who became the youngest person to win Young Farmer of the Year in 1983. Lynch gained a Bachelor of Science and worked for the university where he met his future wife Kate. They were both on the organising committee for several years, and Lynch was also involved in helping form Fonterra.

David Skeffington had a crack at the top prize twice before he won. He missed out by a whisker in 2006, losing by a single point, but gave it another go in 2008 and won convincingly.

Learning from the experience and coming back to win seemed to be a pattern for Massey graduates. Bachelor of AgriScience student Matt Bell was third in 2013, yet won in 2015.

However, Southland Farmer David Holdaway, who studied a Bachelor of Applied Science in agriculture, showed that it could be done at the first go in 2005, when he competed against nearly 300 hopefuls.

The contest helped to launch young farmers in the early stages of their careers. Diploma of Agriculture graduate Geoff Kane took top honours the first year it was televised in 1981 and said that taking home prizes like a new tractor, is nothing compared to getting your name out there in the farming world.

Three flatmates who competed in the 2017 Young Farmer of the Year competition.

Flatmates from left: Hamish Best, James Lawn and Richard French, who all competed in last year’s final.

Contest chairperson Dean Rabbidge said that for 49 years New Zealand has seen top agricultural leaders fight it out for the much sought-after title.

“It is an honour that can never be revoked, and with only 49 names on the winners’ board, you can be sure that the competition will be as hot as ever to be named the 50th champion.”