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Mataura young farmer crowned Otago Southland FMG Young Farmer of the Year

Written by
NZ Young Farmers

A 29-year-old sheep, beef and arable farmer is one step closer to taking out one of New Zealand’s most prestigious farming awards after being crowned the Season 56 Otago Southland FMG Young Farmer of the Year.

Zac Thomas was announced as the Otago Southland FMG Young Farmer of the Year on Saturday evening, after two days of intense competition. He will now battle it out against six other regional finalists 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 them at the Otago Southland event were kept under wraps from the 27 contestants.

“I came into the weekend with no expectations, so to get the win was an awesome surprise,” says Zac.

Zac is a Stock Manager on his family’s sheep, beef and arable farm near Mataura. He is no stranger to the Young Farmer scene, with this regional final being his third attempt at making it to the prestigious Grand Final. He also convened the 2022 Otago Southland FMG Young Farmer of the Year regional final and is an active member of the Waitane Young Farmers Club.

“It’s a bit surreal to get the win, the biggest challenge was making sure I kept calm. I took on each challenge as it came up, and didn’t worry about what had already been done,” he explained.

Saturday’s last challenge of the day, the head-to-head, was the weekend’s major highlight, with over 200 spectators watching as contestants were put through their paces. Working side-by-side, they had just 30 minutes to work their way through a farm accident scenario including completing first aid on a casualty, removing a tree from a road, putting up a temporary fence, and more.

“I really enjoyed the head-to-heads this year, they were a good mix of mental and physical challenge, it was the perfect amount of suffering and a good show for the crowd!” Zac explains.

Zac Thomas competing in one of the weekend's head-to-heads

Thomas Slee, 26, from Nightcaps Young Farmers placed second, with Sam Anderson, 30, from Thornbury Young Farmers securing 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 the most prestigious farming award in the country.  

Zac says he has yet to plan his grand final approach but in the lead-up will be focusing on filling knowledge and skill gaps.

The next generation of young farmers also took part in Saturday’s competition, with Shamus Young and Hayden Drummond of Otago Boys’ High School taking out the title of Otago Southland FMG Junior Young Farmers of the Year. The Hauroko Valley Primary School Southern Boys team made up of Oliver Chamberlain (12), Tomas Clarke (12) and Sam Horrell (12) were the Otago Southland AgriKidsNZ winners.

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Otago Southland FMG Junior First Place Shamus Young and Hayden Drummond

Jessie McFadzien and Chonelle Ayson from Maruawai College placed second in the FMG Junior Young Farmer of the Year Competition.

Runner-up and third in the AgriKidsNZ contest were the Winton Cowboys made up of Spencer White (12), Zephrin Latchford (12) and Maddox Whitaker (12) and the Heddon Bush Heroes made up of Harri Hogg (12), Isabelle Hogg (12) and Alex Shallue (12).

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

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Otago Southland AgriKids First Place Oliver Chamberlain, Sam Horrell and Tomas Clarke

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 caliber 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.  

Written by
NZ Young Farmers

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