Hamish Hammond, Chris O’Leary, Ashley Greer and Henry Smith at the Wairarapa District Young Farmers competition inNovember. PHOTO/FILE

Four young Wairarapa farmers will head to Dannevirke this weekend to compete in the FMG Young Farmer of the Year East Coast Regional Final. Ashley Greer, Chris O’Leary, Hamish Hammond and Henry Smith will compete against four other contestants from around the region, tackling a series of gruelling practical and theoretical modules at Pukemiro Station on Saturday. GIANINA SCHWANECKE asked why they were competing and what it was like to be a young farmer today.

Henry Smith

Henry Smith was recently awarded Wairarapa Shepherd of the Year but he’s also hoping to take out Young Farmer of the Year at this weekend’s regional finals.

“That’s the aim, but it’s my first time at the competition.”

Originally from Featherston, the 23-year-old has been working at Palliser Ridge Station in Pirinoa for the last two years.

Smith decided he wanted to become a farmer after tagging along with uncles in the industry during school holidays.

“I caught the bug from them.

“Getting into Smedley [Station and Cadet Training Farm] was a dream come true. I went from not knowing anything to getting good hands on experience at everything.”

Smith said it could be “pretty hard” getting into the industry and he hoped there would be more opportunities for young people to get involved.

“I always wanted to do it, but it was my boss who encouraged me to sign up and give it a crack.”

He said competing in the Young Farmer of the Year competition was something he had always wanted to do.

“I’m a bit nervous but have been putting in a lot of study. I’m going to give it my best shot.”

Ashley Greer

Ashley Greer works as a shepherd for Ngahere Agriculture Ltd in Wainuioru, east of Masterton – a 750-hectare lamb and bull finishing property, which also grows the herb, plantain.

The 28-year-old is currently studying a Bachelor of Science [Agriculture] by correspondence through Massey University.

“I always had this drive to get into the primary industries, originally dreaming of being a large animal vet.”

She joined NZ Young Farmers in 2017 and became the regional chair early last year — this is her first time competing at the finals.

“I’ve always wanted to have a go. I thought being chair I should set an example and encourage everyone else.

“One of the biggest assets in farming is building your skills and reputation.”

Greer said she was looking forward to learning new skills as part of the competition.

“It is a great way to expose yourself to other avenues of the primary industries and is a good challenge. It makes you think under pressure and showcases what could be the future of farming.”

It’s a future she is excited about.

“It has already changed so much since I was at school. I think farming is going to be more efficient than it even is now.

“Sheep and beef [farmers] have been pushed off prime finishing country by changing land uses, so we will need to get even better at producing more off less land, and that is a challenge that we are working on.”

Hamish Hammond

Hamish Hammond is in his second season contract milking 630 cows in Greytown, and recently he was named the Hawkes Bay Wairarapa Dairy Industry Share Farmer of the year alongside his partner Rachel Gardner.

The 29-year-old former bank teller grew up on a 600 strong dairy farm in Greytown.

“I was always interested in farming.”

He said the main reason he entered the competition was to build new relationships and learn different skills.

“The competition is so broad – you are forced to learn about things outside of your comfort zone and what I do now day to day.”

As a dairy farmer, preparing for the competition had been challenging at times, brushing up on skills he was less familiar with.

“We don’t do a hell of a lot of fencing. I can do the basics but it’s doing it well and skilfully that’s a challenge.”

Hammond said there were also more challenges for young farmers in general.

“We don’t only have to farm well; we have to tell people how we’re doing well. And that’s not really the Kiwi farmer way.”

But he is still excited about future growth in the agricultural industry.

“There are great opportunities for young people to get involved.

“[Rachel and I would] like to progress in the industry, either co-own or own a farm.”

This will be his first time competing in the regional final

Chris O’Leary

For 24-year-old Chris O’Leary, a stock manager on an 800-hectare sheep and beef farm in Alfredton, the competition is a great learning opportunity.

Though he grew up on a horse farm in Whanganui, he always wanted to move into sheep and beef.

“I’ve always wanted to be a farmer. I like animals, being on the hills and working outside.”

O’Leary completed his Level 4 National Certificate in Agriculture at Taratahi before going on to study a Bachelor of Agriscience at Massey University.

He said it was a shame Taratahi had closed, as he had learnt a lot there.

“What they had to offer as a learning [centre] was really good.”

He said he felt “pretty unprepared” for this weekend’s competition but was looking forward to the event.

This will be his first time competing at the regional level.

“If you want to do it, just go for it,” was his advice to others keen to get into the industry.