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Will Third Time Be A Charm For This Young Farmer Of The Year?

A Lincoln University student is hoping it’s third time lucky as she prepares to outsmart her competition at the upcoming Tasman FMG Young Farmer of the Year Regional Competition.

21-year-old Phoebe Smailes is competing in the two-day contest, held from 1-2 March at the Canterbury Agricultural Park in Christchurch.

It is the third regional competition in the race to find New Zealand’s top young farmers for 2024. Seven regional finals are taking place across Aotearoa between February and April, with only the top contestants qualifying for a spot at the FMG Young Farmer of the Year Grand Final, being held in Hamilton in July.

Smailes is one of 155 (AgriKidsNZ, FMG Junior and FMG Young Farmer) contestants from Canterbury to the Coast who have put their name forward for a shot at victory in the Tasman Regional Final. After competing twice before she’s confident this year she has what it takes to have a solid go at claiming the regional title.

“Over the last two years of competing at the FMG Young Farmer of the Year regionals I’ve learnt that you’ve got to do it for your own personal development, not anyone else’s, and I am definitely focused this year on getting the job done!”

A dog trialist in her spare time, Smailes learnt almost everything she knows from time spent in her hometown of Hawera in Taranaki. When she wasn’t helping on the farm which her father manages, Smailes tagged along to dog trials with her mum and dad, competing from the age of 12 before attending her first NZ Championship two years later.

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Smailes says preparing for the Regional Final hasn’t been easy – details of the challenges are kept tightly under wraps by organisers in the lead-up to the event.

“You never know what it’s going to be, so you’ve just got to dabble in everything. I’m lucky I’ve got a supportive family and community – I've learnt so much about farming from talking with my parents and the neighbours who surround us.

“Reading about what’s happening in Farmers Weekly keeps me up to date with lots of other rural news and developments, especially legislation.”

In previous years a series of one-day district competitions would kickstart the annual contest but this year’s format looks a little different, with both the district and regional competitions rolled into a single weekend.

Convenor Georgia Moody says the Tasman Regional Final will focus on local industries – dairy, sheep, kaimoana, and beef.

“From the West Coast to the East Coast and up to Nelson, we’re incorporating a bit of everything from each industry that makes this place unique.” 

Contestants will compete in one of three categories depending on their age. Primary school students, some as young as five, enter the AgriKidsNZ contest, while high school students, working in teams of two, are eligible for the FMG Junior Young Farmer of the Year competition. Those who’ve left school compete alone for a shot at rural stardom in the FMG Young Farmer of the Year.

NZ Young Farmers Chief Executive Lynda Coppersmith says it's encouraging to see a high number of entries into this year’s competition, with 43% of contestants being first-timers.

“This is the 56th season of FMG Young Farmer of the Year and it’s shaping up to be one of our best yet with many new faces including a large number of primary students entering our AgriKidsNZ competition. It just goes to show the future of farming is in good hands.”

The FMG Young Farmer of the Year contest series would not be possible without its family of sponsors: FMG, Ravensdown, WorkSafe, Ministry for Primary Industries, Milwaukee, Woolworths, Honda, Lincoln University, Massey University, PTS Logistics, New Holland and Bushbuck.

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