Historic young winner takes title

History was made in Hawke’s Bay, with an Auckland-based business graduate named the 51st FMG Young Farmer of the Year

James Robertson took out the coveted title in front of a crowd of almost 700 at the grand final held recently in Napier. The 22-year-old is the youngest contestant to ever win the grand final of the iconic agricultural contest. His walk to the stage garnered him a standing ovation, with loud applause and cheering.

“When my name was called out, I went into shock. I just can’t believe it; it’s a dream come true,” says James. “It’s always been a goal of mine to win this title.”

Having grown up on a 200 cow dairy farm in the Waikato, James works for Fonterra in its trade strategy team. He is also proof that you don’t have to milk cows to have a career in New Zealand’s multi-billion dollar dairy sector.

“The opportunities in the agri-food sector are endless, even if you live in the city. You just have to be passionate,” he says. James was one of the seven regional winners from across the country to compete in this year’s grand final.

The victory was the culmination of days of gruelling practical and technical challenges, which tested skills, knowledge, and stamina.

Competitors had to drive a large grape harvester, make sausages, assess health and safety risks using a virtual reality simulator, install an irrigation system for fruit trees, market a line of sheep, and sit an agri-business exam.

James’ prize package is worth at least $75,000 and includes a trip to Ireland. He also took out the FMG People’s Choice Award, winning $1000 for his Auckland Young Farmers club. Despite his youth, James has had a long involvement with NZ Young Farmers, which started during his high school years. In 2013, James and a fellow teammate from Hamilton Boys’ High School won the TeenAg Grand Final.

James Robertson is the youngest person ever to win grand final in the contest’s 51-year history

The Massey University graduate is the only person to take out both grand finals. “The work NZ Young Farmers does in schools to show students the diverse range of careers in agriculture is extremely important,” he says. “I probably wouldn’t be in this position if it wasn’t for my involvement with NZ Young Farmers early on.”

Central Hawke’s Bay technical field representative Joseph Watts, 28, took out second place in the grand final. He also won the innovation prize, the award for showcasing food production, and was named the most tech-savvy contestant.

Waikato vet Emma Dangen, 24, came third and picked up the award for championing environmental best practice. Alex Field, 25, a stock manager south of Whanganui, won the award for outstanding leadership skills.

The total grand final prize pool is worth $100,000. The FMG Young Farmer of the Year is an iconic contest that began in 1969 and showcases the country’s agri-food sector. The contest is supported by FMG, Ravensdown, Honda, WorkSafe, Zero Harm Farm, STIHL, Lincoln University, Massey University, Southfuels, Northfuels, Betacraft, and New Holland.

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