Life 'crazy' since winning 2017 Young Farmer title

FMG Young Farmer of the Year winner Nigel Woodhead chats with Federated Farmers national...
FMG Young Farmer of the Year winner Nigel Woodhead chats with Federated Farmers national president Katie Milne at the Southern Field Days at Waimumu last month. PHOTOS: SUPPLIED

Ask Nigel Woodhead what life has been like since winning the FMG Young Farmer of the Year title and he says - "to be frank, it's been crazy''.

Last year was a hectic one: not only did he juggle farming with studying - which paid off when he won the title - but he also married his partner Leanne.

There had barely been time to catch a breath and another milestone lay ahead this year, as the South Otago couple were now expecting their first child.

Mr Woodhead, who farms sheep and beef at Milton, grew up watching the Young Farmer of the Year contest on television. As a youngster, he recalled a desire to be "one of those guys on stage''.

After completing a bachelor of agricultural science degree, he worked at Midlands Seeds in Ashburton for five years.

While in Mid Canterbury, he joined Pendarves Young Farmers Club and, when he returned south to lease the family farm, he joined Toko Young Farmers.

He acknowledged last year's grand final was a "blur''. Contestants were put under huge pressure for the three-day event, both physical and mental, and he had learned a lot about himself.

It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, during which he was buoyed by having the biggest, loudest support crew among the competitors.

When he qualified for the grand final, Mr Woodhead said he wanted to lay claim to that - as he was coming from the furthest distance - and it turned into reality.

Leanne Woodhead "got stuck in and rallied the troops'' and organised special T-shirts for the supporters.

"It was really heartening, when you're really battling away, having 25 people standing on the sideline screaming at you,'' he said.

Mrs Woodhead was "number one whip cracker'' and he was also immensely grateful for the support of friend and fellow Young Farmer Olivia Ross.

Miss Ross carried Mr Woodhead's bags during the competition and that was a very deliberate choice.

He knew that if he got into a bad space then she would snap him out of it - and she proved to be "awesome''.

Being involved with the competition had been a great experience and also a real eye-opener, with exposure to a "whole lot of different things'' that he otherwise would not have been.

That included being invited to plough at the New Zealand Ploughing Championships at Thornbury in Southland next month.

Coincidentally, Mrs Woodhead's father Danie represented Zimbabwe at the world ploughing championships, including competing in the World Ploughing Contest in Outram in 1994, and ploughing matches were a big part of her childhood. He was thrilled about his son-in-law's foray into ploughing.

Mr Woodhead described his ploughing skills as "all right'' - he had done quite a bit of ploughing in Canterbury - but it would be "a wee bit different'' and he was really excited about it.

Those involved were very passionate about it and keen to get some more young farmers involved, he said.

Then there was the Young Farmer of the Year grand final in Invercargill, which also doubled as the 50th anniversary of the event.

While he definitely would not be as stressed as last year, he would still be kept reasonably busy during the event.

The previous year's winner was a "taxi driver'' for the competitors, so his job was to "get them where they need to be on time''.

Young Farmers continues to play a major role in the Woodhead household. Mr Woodhead is treasurer of the Toko club and Otago-Southland regional treasurer, while Mrs Woodhead is Otago-Southland territory manager.

He was looking to take a step back however, and let some other young people take on some responsibilities.

Asked the benefits of joining Young Farmers, Mr Woodhead said "the people you meet and the experiences you get from just being involved in a group of good buggers''.

It was a great networking opportunity and to meet so many awesome people and do some cool things, he said.

And, there was "something for everyone''. If you wanted to wander to a meeting once a month, enjoy a beer and catch up with mates, that was fine; there was also something for those that really wanted to "get stuck in'' and be involved in leadership and governance, he said.

As far as his own passion for the agricultural sector and farming, he enjoyed being outside and being his own boss.

While he was working for the seed company, he was always wishing he was "the guy that he was talking to.''

He had wanted to be a farmer since he was a youngster.

"I suppose it's just being outside and producing the product. We're producing lamb and beef and things for international markets. It's pretty cool being in charge of that.''

Asked what his message was to urban New Zealanders, Mr Woodhead said farmers loved what they did - if they didn't then they would not do it - and producing food was a tough way to make a living and a tough job to do.

"We're just trying to do the best for the environment and for our animals and ourselves and our families.

"Someone needs to produce the food,'' he said.

In the short-term, Mr Woodhead wanted to get his farm "humming''. He was still very much learning and he wanted to get it performing to where it could be.

He and his wife did not often get a chance to work together, as she was so busy doing her Young Farmers work and she also had a small design business. But it was great that she was doing things that she loved, he said.

Eventually, Mr Woodhead was keen to get involved in leadership and governance in the agricultural sector.

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