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Opiki Dairy Farmer Earns A Spot At FMG Young Farmer Of The Year Grand Final

The Chair of Fitzherbert Young Farmers is one step closer to winningNew Zealand’s most prestigious farming award after being crowned the Season 56 Taranaki Manawatu FMG Young Farmer of the Year.

Zayn Jones, 31, was announced as the Taranaki Manawatu FMG Young Farmer of the Year on Saturday evening, following two days of fierce competition at the Central Districts Field Days in Feilding. Now, he gears up to take on six other regional finalists in the ultimate showdown at the FMG Young Farmer of the Year Grand Final, being held in Hamilton in July.

The weekend’s event was one of seven Regional Finals happening across Aotearoa between February and April. Details of what challenges would be thrown at the Taranaki Manawatu event were kept under wraps from the 30 determined contestants.

"Winning a ticket to the Grand Final is really cool and I’m looking forward to stepping out of my comfort zone even more.”

A dairy farm manager near Opiki, this was only Jones’ second attempt at the prestigious competition. He joined Young Farmers in 2022 and has immersed himself in what the network has to offer.

“Since I've joined Young Farmers, I’ve been trying to put myself out there. I’m the Chairman of the Club and Vice-Chair of the region so competing in the contest has been another way that I’ve been able to challenge myself,” he explains.

The head-to-heads were a highlight and were “different” than what Jones had seen in the past, a credit to the Taranaki Manawatu organising committee.

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“In the first head-to-head we had to untwist a gate which was a real brain jerker and was something more practical you might come across on-farm.

“The speed shear in the second head-to-head really split the competition in half. I was lucky that I’ve done a bit of shearing before but some of the dairy guys had never picked up a handpiece”.

Another highlight for Jones was competing against his partner, Natalie Ahlborn, a fellow Fitzherbert Young Farmers member.

“She was a bit unsure about competing, but I was fully backing her, she knows her stuff! The committee did an amazing job of the spread of knowledge that was needed so she did really well. It’s flicked on the flame for her to enter again!”

“I’m encouraging our young members to get involved and give the contest a try. It may be daunting at the start, but the more you put in the more you get out.”

Sean Taylor, aged 30, from Marton Young Farmers clinched second place. Meanwhile, Matt Lever, aged 21, representing the Massey Young Farmers, secured the final spot on the podium. 

The FMG Young Farmer of the Year competition is dedicated to showcasing the very best talent in New Zealand’s food and fibre sector. Now in its 56th year, the title of “FMG Young Farmer of the Year” is held up as one of the most prestigious farming awards in the country.

Jones is looking forward to competing at the Grand Final and will be using his network to upskill and build his knowledge.

“There’s a lot to cover and I’ll lean heavily into people that have competed before. I’ve already had offers of support, so I’ll definitely take people up on those.”

Nicolas Verry and Jack Aitken-Cade from Palmerston North Boys’ High School were unbeatable, taking out the Taranaki Manawatu FMG Junior Young Farmer of the Year title for 2024. Meanwhile, the Halcombe School AgriKidsNZ team made up of Maggie Lintott, Max Ireland and Taylor Lane were the 2024 Taranaki Manawatu AgriKidsNZ Champions.

Haylee Baker and Mikayla Marshall from Feilding High School placed second in the FMG Junior Young Farmer of the Year Competition.

Runner-up and third in the AgriKidsNZ contest were Maisie Johnstone, Max Staples, and Jonty Howland also from Halcombe School and Hamish Gallen, Ben Gallen and Braxton Jacobs from Waituna West.

They have also been invited to July’s FMG Young Farmer of the Year Grand Final.

New Zealand Young Farmers Chief Executive Lynda Coppersmith says this year’s Grand Final is shaping up to be one of the best yet.

“Every year we continue to be blown away by the calibre of our FMG Young Farmer of the Year contestants, from our AgriKidsNZ participants through to those vying for the regional FMG Young Farmer of the Year title. Their knowledge, skills and passion for the industry is impressive and certainly leaves us excited for the future of our industry.”

New Zealand’s primary sector exports were worth more than $57 billion in the year to June 2023, accounting for 81.9% of New Zealand’s merchandise exports. NZ Young Farmers has been part of the backbone of this primary industry for nearly 100 years, nurturing and supporting talent while growing connected communities.

Coppersmith says it’s the regional communities and volunteers who have made the FMG Young Farmer of the Year the prestigious event it is today.

“We simply couldn’t do it without the tireless work of our local committees, communities and volunteers. These are people who support us year in, year out, and we’re incredibly grateful to everyone who has played a part.”

The FMG Young Farmer of the Year Contest is proudly supported by FMG, Ravensdown, WorkSafe, Ministry for Primary Industries, Milwaukee, Woolworths, Honda, Lincoln University, Massey University, PTS Logistics, New Holland and Bushbuck.

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