‘Muster’ brings in the younger generation

Bill Sutherland, of Benmore Station, talks genetics during the Nextgen Muster for young people to...
Bill Sutherland, of Benmore Station, talks genetics during the Nextgen Muster for young people to learn about the merino industry. PHOTOS: NEXTGEN MUSTER
Georgia Urquhart had a couple of sleepless nights prior to the Nextgen Muster.

Miss Urquhart (24) was a driving force behind the initiative which aimed to get more young people involved in — and learning about — the merino industry.

Initially, she feared no-one would turn up or there might only be five, so she was thrilled when 68 attended the first day at Benmore Station, near Omarama, and about 40 the second at Simons Hill Station, in the Mackenzie district — "way more" than she expected.

Miss Urquhart grew up on Grays Hills Station in the Mackenzie, which includes a merino stud that she has become increasingly involved with over the last several years.

An AI technician, working with both cattle and deer, she also worked as a casual shepherd and did a lot of the stud work at Grays Hills.

Dave Robertson, of Veterinary Centre Oamaru, discusses animal health.
Dave Robertson, of Veterinary Centre Oamaru, discusses animal health.
Keen to get more young people involved in the industry — she quipped she was tired of being the youngest "by 40 years" — she also preferred to be behind the scenes.

While there were the likes of judging competitions for young people in the merino industry, she shied away from them as she did not like public speaking.

Deciding that it would be worthwhile if the young people could learn at least one thing, even if it was just an introduction to someone, Miss Urquhart approached Nextgen Agri founder and agricultural geneticist Dr Mark Ferguson, who encouraged her to run the event.

The first day was at Benmore Station, home to the Sutherland family, who have a passion for merino wool.

Vet Dave Robertson, from the Veterinary Centre Oamaru, discussed animal health, New Zealand Merino Company area manager Katrina Bishop talked fine wool, Dr Ferguson covered condition scoring and Bill Sutherland, from Benmore, and Will Gibson, from Nextgen Agri, discussed genetics and EBVs.

New Zealand Merino Company area manager Katrina Bishop talks fine wool, watched by PGG Wrightson ...
New Zealand Merino Company area manager Katrina Bishop talks fine wool, watched by PGG Wrightson wool rep Ange Armstrong (left) and Marcia Green.
A dinner was held in Twizel that night with guest speakers Craig Smith, the Devold Wool Direct general manager, and David Giddings from Meadowslea Genetics.

The following day, the group headed to Simons Hill Station, farmed by Glenn and Sarah Fastier, between Tekapo and Twizel, which included a tour of the property.

Participants came from as far afield as North Canterbury and South Otago and feedback had been good, Miss Urquhart said. The intention was to hold the event twice a year with the next one based in the Rakaia Gorge in February.

Organising committee member Ben Sutherland was keen to get involved, seeing two key advantages.

He believed he could benefit from it personally, learning from the industry-leading professionals attending, while he also saw it as a great opportunity for other young people.

Having grown up on Benmore Station — farmed by his family for more than 100 years — he considered himself privileged, as he had a "leg in the door".

There were a lot of things he took for granted; even things he picked up as a boy, asking questions while sitting in the truck with his father Bill, so it was great to be offer other young people some practical farming experience, he said.

The sheep and beef industry generally was fairly traditional, and there was not enough of the likes of the muster going on, helping the next generation along, he said.

The muster was an open platform for anyone, at any stage in their career, who was interested in agriculture to "come along and take something home".

It was also a social occasion, which was quite important, particularly coming out of Covid-19 lockdown.

Since completing an agricultural commerce degree at Lincoln University, Mr Sutherland has been between Australia and Benmore.

He did a grain harvest in Australia and then lived in the desert, in the Kimberley region, in Western Australia, for a couple of mustering seasons — "just chasing cows" — which he loved.

Mark Ferguson, of  Nextgen Agri,  talks about condition scoring.
Mark Ferguson, of Nextgen Agri, talks about condition scoring.
The mustering was done using horses and motorbikes with aerial assistance from helicopters and Mr Sutherland admitted he had "got the helicopter bug" and was keen to pursue his helicopter licence.

Set against the "beautiful backdrop" of the Kimberley, it was a stunning place to work. It was very isolated but there were so many staff on the station that it formed its own community, and it was a great place for young people, he said.

Also passionate about the rural sector was Josh Kirk, who grew up on a sheep and beef station in the Lake Coleridge high country.

The Lincoln University graduate spent a year working on a merino stud, and he was now working for Silver Fern Farms as an intern.

The three-year contract saw him experience every different aspect of the business, from working with livestock representatives to seeing how plants operated.

With a long-time interest in fine wool, Mr Kirk was keen long-term to get back into the farming industry but, in the meantime, was getting "as much exposure to different things" as he could.

 

Add a Comment

drivesouth-pow-farming.png