Young farmers reaching for peak achievement

FMG Young Farmer of the Year Otago-Southland grand finalist Alex Field says preparations for this...
FMG Young Farmer of the Year Otago-Southland grand finalist Alex Field says preparations for this week’s grand final have been going well. PHOTOS: NEW ZEALAND YOUNG FARMERS
When Alex Field lined up for the 2019 FMG Young Farmer of the Year grand final, he was expecting Mt Cook.

Instead, he says, he got Mt Everest; while he knew it was going to be hard, the reality took him by surprise.

This time, he is ready for Everest and, like the mountain’s conqueror Sir Edmund Hillary, he hopes to knock it off.

Mr Field (29) is farm manager at Pamu’s Waipuna property at Mossburn in northern Southland. The sheep breeding and cattle finishing unit, comprising 600 effective hectares, winters nearly 500 bull calves this season, 50 yearling bulls and 1800 ewes.

Preparation for the grand final was going well — "to be fair, I’m at the stage if I don’t know it now, I’m not going to know it" — and he was keen to get to Northland and "get in there".

Having qualified for the final by winning the Otago-Southland regional final back in February, the time period between the two events heightened that desire.

Mr Field believed his biggest strength was that he had competed in the grand final previously, and while he might not know exactly what he was getting into, he had a rough idea.

He hoped to play that to his advantage. Last time had been tough — "an absolute slog" — so that aspect of the competition was not going to take him by surprise.

Since competing in his first Young Farmer Contest event in 2017, Mr Field had "caught the bug" and the grand final had been an aspiration ever since.

Originally from Apiti, north of Feilding, Mr Field’s passion for farming was passed on by his mother who worked on a dairy farm.

He studied at Telford from 2011 to 2012 and spent a year in the Waikato working with 3000 service bulls and 7000 stud ewes before working on a breeding farm in the Manawatu for nearly two years.

He and his fiancee Ashleigh O’Connell have been based at Waipuna for more than two years. Farming was always what he wanted to do and the role at Waipuna was rewarding.

While ultimately farm ownership would be ideal, he was a "bit more of a realist"and would be happy in farm management roles, hopefully getting into a position where his children would have a chance to get into farming.

Mr Field joined Young Farmers when he stopped playing rugby, to provide a social aspect in his life. He had chaired various clubs and gained a "massive" amount from his involvement.

Otago-Southland has had considerable success in the grand final over the years and he acknowledged he had "big shoes" to fill.

While he was travelling farthermost to the competition, his support crew might be one of the smaller but it would definitely not be the quietest, he said.

He was grateful for all the support that he had received in the lead-up to the competition. Ms O’Connell had even organised hoodies for his supporters to wear.

In some ways, Mr Field had already scaled his own Mt Everest, speaking publicly about his own mental health struggles.

A combination of being overworked, facing external pressures, compounding stresses in life and preparation for the 2019 grand final put him into a dark place.

He tried to hide it and move on but, when he broke down a second time, he sought help through Pamu’s mental health support programme. After picking up the phone and calling the number, it took him 15 minutes to speak.

He was put in touch with a psychiatrist who helped him navigate his mental health, identify signs and pick them up early to prevent from reaching boiling point.

Since speaking out, Mr Field said the response had been "pretty crazy" as others shared their stories with him.

It helped him cope with this year’s grand final a lot better as he could no longer hide it and he was now "pretty comfortable" dealing with that pressure.

He decided to share his story in the hope that it might help someone else come forward. Normalising conversations about mental health and removing stigma was important, he said.

An overwhelming message was that people did not want to speak out because they considered that action to be weak, but Mr Field said that was not the case.

"I know what it takes to go through and ask for help. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Anyone that has asked for help, I never see them as weak," he said.

Once the grand final was over, Mr Field was looking forward to having "a cruisier lifestyle" and the next big date was in November when he married Ms O’Connell.

Aorangi grand finalist Tom Adkins is optimistic about the future of the farming sector.
Aorangi grand finalist Tom Adkins is optimistic about the future of the farming sector.
After months of hard work preparing for the contest, Aorangi grand finalist Tom Adkins realises there will be a "huge drop" when it is all over.

Needing to keep himself busy, he and some mates have signed up to compete in this year’s Coast to Coast — he is doing the kayaking leg.

But first, the young Hakataramea Valley farmer has an appointment in Whangarei this week that he is looking forward to.

Mr Adkins (23) got through to the Young Farmer of the Year grand final from his first regional final. He did not enter to win it, he was just going to give it his best crack.

Originally from Whanganui, he was brought up on a 400ha sheep and beef farm and his end goal was to get back to the farm to eventually buy into it and take over from his parents.

But first, he was enjoying gaining experience on various different properties and he was also keen to travel overseas before returning to work on several more properties before eventually returning home.

It was always good to pick up lessons from other places and "see what they bring to the table", he said.

Mr Adkins has spent the past two years as a block manager on Caberfeidh Station, a 6000ha farming in the Hakataramea Valley running about 33,000 stock units.

It carries a wide range of stock classes including maternal and terminal mated ewe flocks, a DNA recorded breeding cow herd, a Lumina lamb fattening programme and First Light Wagyu finishing cattle, as well as bull beef and trade/finishing steers and heifers.

Mr Adkins is in charge of the 1600ha Caberfeidh block where he manages the set stocking, mobbing up, feed budgets and stock rotations for the breeding and trade stock.

He spent two years at Telford and then one year at Lincoln University gaining a diploma in farm management with distinction.

It was while at Lincoln that he joined the Young Farmers Club as a way to meet other students. He was aware of the Young Farmer of the Year contest at that time — it was something that had always caught his eye, and he described it as a "pretty amazing spectacle".

His preparation had been tough but good and he said the standard of competitors he was competing against was "so high".

"I’m not the most experienced person in the field by any means. I’ve been out working for the least amount of time after three years spent studying.

"It doesn’t really matter what other contestants are doing, it’s a competition between you and the judges. There’s just other people also competing against the judges. I’m just looking forward to getting up there and getting into it really," he said.

A stock person "through and through", Mr Adkins said one of his weaknesses was with machinery and tractors.

He is a member of the Upper Waitaki Young Farmers Club,a strong club boasting about 34 members. Back in 1985, Hakataramea Valley farmer Donald McKenzie finished runner-up in the grand final.

Mr Adkins was not playing rugby this year, as he did not want any injuries, but he still attended games and was happy to film with a video camera "and keep warm by the barbie".

He played twilight netball and touch and, over summer, took part in the Surfing For Farmers initiative at Campbells Bay, Kakanui.

Mr Adkins was optimistic about the future of farming, saying there were "lots of cool opportunities". He believed diversification on-farm was going to be key.