Finalist chasing farm ownership dream

PHOTOS: SUPPLIED
PHOTOS: SUPPLIED
Mataura sheep, beef and arable farmer Zac Thomas will represent the South at the Young Farmer of the Year grand final in Hamilton for three days. Shawn McAvinue speaks to him about his competition preparation, marrying an Aucklander, becoming a father and if he has any regrets leaving the military.

Mataura sheep, beef and arable farmer Zac Thomas has no regrets about leaving a career in the military to chase a dream of farm ownership.

The 30-year-old will represent Otago and Southland at the Young Farmer of the Year grand final in Hamilton for three days from tomorrow.

Born and raised in Mataura, the son of accountants Raymond and Lisa Thomas, some of his earliest memories were visiting his grandparents’ 370ha sheep, beef and arable property Oakridge Farm.

He left Gore High School on his 18th birthday, as soon as he was eligible to join the Royal New Zealand Air Force.

The appeal of joining the military was to do something different and because of a fascination for aviation.

"It was always something I wanted to do."

In the air force he worked as a safety and surface technician in Blenheim and Auckland.

His work was spent mostly in workshops and included servicing and providing training on equipment including life jackets, parachutes, liferafts and survival packs.

In Auckland, he meet his future wife Laura Staveley, where she was born and raised.

When they started dating, he warned her about his desire to return to work on Oakridge.

"So she knew if we stayed together that was something that was going to happen."

When his career in the air force reached a crossroads and required him to begin extensive training, he decided to leave. In 2017 he joined his grandparents Alan and Jennifer Taylor and aunt Julie on the farm.

"I’m the fourth generation on the farm."

The sheep and beef the family run on Oakridge include 2400 Romney ewes and 70 dairy beef cattle, usually Hereford cross, bought at 100kg to fatten.

About 90ha of cereals are grown on Oakridge, a mix of milling oats for Harraway & Sons and barley for seed and the dairy feed market.

On returning home in 2017, he joined Waitane Young Farmers club.

The club had up to 25 members and was in good health.

"We’ve been steady for a long time, which is nice."

Mataura sheep, beef and arable farmer Zac Thomas will represent the Otago and Southland region in...
Mataura sheep, beef and arable farmer Zac Thomas will represent the Otago and Southland region in the Young Farmer of the Year grand final in Hamilton for three days from tomorrow.
He got married to Laura in 2018 and they had their first child, daughter Adalyn in April this year.

"Mix that in with grand final prep and it has been a bit crazy."

As well as farming work, preparations for the competition included writing a speech for a business-project presentation.

A major goal of his was to own a farm.

"To be able to work for myself, to provide for my family, and create the opportunities I’ve been given from my family by paying it forward – that's the biggest goal for me.”

He had no regrets leaving the military to go farming.

"I made the right decision at the right time and it has worked out good."

He had entered the competition eight times and tomorrow will be his first grand final after three attempts to qualify at the annual Otago Southland regional final.

His wife, daughter and parents will travel to Waikato to support him.

He was not feeling too nervous.

Competition nerves "come and go", he said.

"I’m feeling quite comfortable with where I’m at and we’ll take it as it comes. There’s not a lot you can control so you make the best of it. I’m looking forward to being there and making the most of the experience."

Former Southland dairy farm manager George Dodson, 22, who now works as a 2IC on a 430-cow dairy farm in Canterbury, would represent the Tasman region at the grand final.

Tournament

Coinciding with the grand final, nearly 50 Young Farmers Club members from seven regions will compete in the New Zealand Young Farmers Tournament national final, competing in fencing, clay target, stock judging and debating.

Contestants from Otago and Southland representing the South are:

Fencing: Nils Buehlmann and Isaac Johnston (West Otago).

Clay target: Josh Bennett (Waitane) and Shane Sanders (Upper Manuherikia).

Stock judging: Josh Bennett (Waitane), Emma Wilson (Dunedin) and Jess Wilson (Dunedin).

shawn.mcavinue@alliedpress.co.nz

 

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