10 Jul 2017

Otago farmer makes history with 'young farmer' win

1:27 pm on 10 July 2017

For the first time in history, an Otago farmer has won the prestigious Young Farmer of the Year contest.

Nigel Woodhead and his wife Leanne, after he was named Young Farmer of the Year.

Nigel Woodhead and his wife Leanne, who farm in Milton, after he was named Young Farmer of the Year. Photo: RNZ / Jemma Brackebush

Milton sheep and beef farmer Nigel Woodhead beat six of the country's top farmers in the three-day event in Palmerston North this weekend.

"I can't even believe I'm standing here with the cloak on," he said after the announcement. "It's been a massive six months, but especially a massive week. I'm absolutely knackered now and it's great to tick it off."

The 28-year-old and his wife, Leanne Woodhead, lease the 400-hectare family sheep and beef farm in Milton.

For the past nine months, Mr Woodhead has had to balance daily duties while preparing for the Otago regional final, prior to the grand final.

"[I've done] a lot of reading and bookwork, talking to industry people, doing a lot of fitness, going to the gym and going running, it's basically consumed my life since March," he says.

It's a similar story for the six other competitors, who represented their regions around the country.

East Coast farmer Hamish Best came runner-up and Tasman's Andrew Wiffen placed third. The only female in the grand final was Lisa Kendall from Karaka, South Auckland, who picked up the people's choice award, as well as the agri-growth challenge.

Nigel Woodhead completing one of many fencing challenges.

Nigel Woodhead completing one of many fencing challenges. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Over the course of three days, the finalists completed more than 30 physical, technical, and practical challenges, from fencing to calving to operating heavy machinery.

The competition has changed a lot in its 49-year history, New Zealand Young Farmers chief executive Terry Copeland said.

There was now a whole day of challenges focused around technology use on farms.

"Farm mapping, nutrient management, how we utilise robotics going forward. We've had modules around drones. In recent years we also built in an HR module, because obviously people management is key in all businesses, let alone in our sector," he said.

Mr Woodhead's mentor for the competition was Olivia Ross of Beef and Lamb New Zealand, who helped him prepare for the ultimate rural challenge.

"He's got his head screwed on this boy, and he's done Otago-Southland bloody proud. The whole team feels like we've won it as well."

Along with the title, Mr Woodhead will take home a new tractor, quad bike, and a study grant, as part of a prize pack worth more than $90,000.

Next year's grand final will be held in Otago-Southland, where Mr Woodhead will pass on the title on his home turf.

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Contestants had to get creative with their chainsaws to design a Bledisloe Cup. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

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