Boosting their general farming knowledge in areas where they don't have existing experience is one of the targets of FMG Junior Young Farmers of the year grand finalists, Ben Allen and Alex Purdie.
The Year 13 St Paul’s students, both 17, won the Waikato/Bay of Plenty regional final in March and are now preparing for the grand final in Whangārei in July, alongside fellow St Paul’s students Kate and Finn Morton.
Ben and Alex say they "had a go" at the competition in Year 11 and came third, just missing out on the grand final qualification. It showed they could do it, and this year were determined to do one better (they didn't compete in 2021).
Ben says they're pretty good at general knowledge and are reasonably academic, and they each have their strengths practically.
"I'm better at beekeeping because I do a lot of it at home, and Alex is better at anything dairy, for example, because he grew up on a dairy farm. At the regional final, we bounced off each other for the ones we weren't too sure about."
Alex helps his parents' 600-cow dairy farm between Morrinsville and Gordonton almost everyday.
"I go out most days after school and can do extra when needed, help with calving or feeding calves or in the shed; whatever needs to be done really."
Ben has a dry stock background with his grandparents' Rotorua sheep and beef farm and the properties of other friends and family, but the ability to multitask might come from his parents' professions: mum Kerry leads the Agribusiness curriculum at St Paul’s and dad James was one of the founders of AgFirst, is the chairman of the National Fieldays Society and is himself a former Young Farmer of the Year grand finalist. They helped with the AgriKids section for a few years too when James was contest chairman.
Kerry supervised the two teams at the regional final and is guiding their study and preparation over the coming months.
"We'll be doing things that they're not normally exposed to and fundraising to ensure they can get up to Whangārei easily. They're all looking forward to learning new things and upskilling," she said.
Alex says having a rural background helps to give more of a practical understanding of how things work rather than simply learning the theory. In the competition, Ben says they're good at brainstorming what to do at the start of each module.
"We read through what we have to do then bounce things off each other and ideas start coming through straight away. its more about actually starting the module and figuring it out."
"We all know a little something about something and we can work from there. Being around farming all the time and repetition; the best way to get things to sink in."
Ben says they've also looked at where they dropped points in the regional final.
"We'll do some practise modules on them so they won't be a weak point again. Time management and being confident in what you know are important. Dads helping with the theory side, sending through information and practice quizzes, and Mums helping drive us through it all."
School resources are helpful, although health and safety rules mean they cant do things like take the wheels off the school quad (to learn how to put it back on!) School work continues as well: Alex is studying chemistry, physics, accounting, economics and calculus with a view to studying automotive engineering through the Defense Force or at Canterbury University before going farming.
"I'm sure Mum and Dad will want to retire at some stage but that’s not any time soon."
Ben is taking Agribusiness, agriculture/horticulture, calculus, statistics, engineering (metal work) and construction (wood work) with a view to going to Lincoln University in 2023 to do an ag commerce degree. Hockey is also playing a large part in the decision to head to Canterbury; he’s aiming for selection in to national Under-18 side this year.
The other St Paul’s duo is Kate Morton and her younger brother Finn. They live on their grandad’s dairy grazing farm at Tauwhare. Kate is Year 13 and studying physics, chemistry, biology, calculus and art design. The future large-animal vet thought the Junior Farmer competition sounded like a fun thing to do, so she roped in her little brother, who is only in Year 9.
"I thought I might have the general knowledge and Finn would have the practical skills. We surprised ourselves a bit by how well we did. We certainly weren't aiming for the grand final. It wasn't a very practical final but we worked really well."
The pandemic lockdowns have seen Finn spending more and more time helping their grandad, Bruce Shute, on the farm.
"He taught me to drive tractors and do all sorts of farming jobs," Finn says. "We spent a lot of time cleaning up trees after a storm. I really enjoyed that."
Kate says their grandad is excited about them competing in the grand final and sets them practical tasks across the farm every weekend,
"Apart from that, we're spending a couple of hours every weekend researching specific topics and then working through modules through school, as well as the four of us as a group, and through the school’s Young Farmers club."
"We've also planned some visits to Grandad’s friend’s farm and some other places to do other work," Finn adds.
As a Year 9, Finn is a long way from cementing any career choice but is considering being a contractor in Otago or Canterbury.
"Driving machinery; it started when I was young and got model tractors and things, and the past few years has reinforced that idea when I've been on the farm with my Grandad. I'd like to be a diesel mechanic I think."
Two teams from each of the Young Farmers' seven regions compete in the Junior Young Farmer of the Year as part of the FMG Young Farmer of the Year Contest Series. They join AgriKids finalists from around the country, but the big headline is for the fight for the actual Young Farmer of the Year title. The 2022 Waikato/Bay of Plenty grand finalist is Te Kawa West Young Farmer Chris Poole. The 27-year-old is a dairy farmer and calf rearer, and also works with artificial intelligence platform Connecterra.