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Zac Thomas: Otago Southland FMG Young Farmer of the Year

Written by
NZ Young Farmers

For 30-year-old Zac Thomas, becoming a farmer was a no-brainer. Ever since he was little, he knew it was what he wanted to do.  

“Farming is always something I’ve really enjoyed. Even after three years in the Air Force, I always had the goal to come back.” 

So, in 2017, that’s exactly what he did. Returning to the family farm just outside of Mataura in Gore, Zac began working alongside his grandfather and aunt farming sheep, beef, and growing arable crops.  

Eight years later, the young farmer is still working alongside his grandfather, the farm running 2,500 ewes, 80 cattle, and growing 100 hectares of cereals. It’s a family affair – everyone pitches in at different times to help get the job done.  

“Our family has created lots of memories working together,” he explains. “Growing up, we’d always have the six cousins come out to help with tailing and all that...you’d get up to a bit of mischief, driving three tractors and a header together doing groundwork and harvest.  

“It’s fun, we all know how each other works.” 

Like on any farm, no two days quite end up the same. Zac keeps busy with livestock, working in the grain operation, and the daily running of the farm. Spring is the season he looks forward to most, after the rain lifts and the grass grows.  

“Lambs are being born, you’re planting crops in the ground. In some ways, you’re seeing the fruits of your labour, and by the time tailing rolls around you can see how your management has gone."  

On any given day, Zac will look up from his work to see the rolling hills of the Mataura Valley in the distance. His mum a preschool manager and his dad an accountant, he spent much of his childhood on his grandfather’s farm – the views are as familiar to him as the back of his hand.  
However, it’s in moments like these that he feels the weight of what’s changed since he was a kid.  

“You look around and remember the fences you’ve pulled out, or the big trees you’ve taken down, where you’ve planted new ones, and now they’re growing. You think it wasn’t that long since you planted those trees, but realise 15 years have passed,” he laughs.  

“The one thing I really like about farming is having a positive impact on the environment. Planning those changes and seeing them improve the land you get to work on every day, yeah, that’s what’s cool to me.” 

A member of the Waitane Young Farmers Club, this year marks Zac’s eighth entry into the competition. July will be his first Grand Final after three prior attempts to qualify at the annual Otago Southland FMG Young Farmer of the Year Regional Final.

He topped the podium this year, but winning the regional title was not something he expected. 

“The Grand Final has always been something that I’ve looked at and gone, that’s good for those people but that won’t be me. It was quite a surprise to come first this year.” 

While he doesn’t have any expectations for the Grand Final, Zac says it doesn’t mean he’s not working hard.  

"It’s my chance to give it all I’ve got, and either way, every contest is a learning experience. No matter where you place, you get something good out of it. It’s a whole new stage to be on.” 

If not a win, another takeaway he’d like to get from the contest is an opportunity to meet other young farmers following a similar path to him. His goal is to, one day, farm in his own right – whatever that looks like.  

“Whether that’s in partnership with my family, or not, I just want to be my own boss. 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.” 

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Written by
NZ Young Farmers

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