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Young farmers battle it out

Young farmers battle it out
Television personality Te Radar entertaining the crowds as Pendarves young farmer Jess Cunliffe turns a balloon into a dog, before carrying a hay bale, filleting fish, chopping wood, and more, in the second head-to-head challenge on Saturday. PHOTO SHARON DAVIS

The gloves were on and the sweat was rolling with a spot in the prestigious Young Farmers of the Year competition at stake.

More than 150 young farmers from the Aorangi region descended on Kurow on Friday to take part in the two-day Aorangi regional competition, including the argikids and junior sections.

Instead of district competitions, this year the district and regional competitions were rolled into a single exciting weekend with popular television personality Te Radar entertaining the crowds as emcee.

Among the 20 adult contestants were the second and third-place winners in the 2023 Aorangi regional competition. James Bell from Glenavy and Jess Cunliffe from Pendarves Young Farmers Clubs both hoped to improve on their performance and win a spot in the final.

Mid Canterbury also had Pendarves farmers James Wilson and Flacio Naf in the competition, along with Niall Gallagher from the Foothills Young Farmers and Hinds club member Levi Hart.

By Saturday it was down to eight finalists. Mid Canterbury's Cunliffe battled it out against Upper Waitaki members Cody Clark and Alex Hood on home ground, Five Forks young farmers Daniel Durdle, Marcus Frost and Jack Taggart along with Samuel Allen and Gareth McKerchar from Pleasant Point.

First-time entrant Gareth McKerchar was announced as the winner at the end of a long and grueling day that ended with a buzzer quiz in the evening.

McKerchar said he comes from a family of farmers with his parents farming beef and sheep in Fairlie. Even with his upbringing and experience behind him, he said he wasn’t sure how he’d come out of the competition. “There’s such a range of challenges, you never know how you’re going to stack up.”

“I thought I’d be quite nervous throughout the whole thing, but I wasn’t. As soon as the horn went and we were away and competing I really enjoyed it.”

With this win under his belt, McKercher will go on to compete in Hamilton in July with his family cheering him on.

Coming in close behind him were Samuel Black and Marcus Frost in second and third place.

Contestants had to create a farm on a mini scale. The tasks included fencing, planting trees, plumbing a trough, planting trees and chopping wood. In between there were two head-to-head races that challenged both brain and brawn.

Cunliffe, who placed third in the event last year, said the competition was "intense" with the challenges in line with what she had expected.

Convenors of the Aorangi regional young farmer competition Daniel Black and Mikayla Bryant from the Upper Waitaki Young Farmers Club said the weather for the two-day competition was perfect.

They described it as a “full-on event” with tough competitors and high standards and said they couldn’t have organised the competition without the support and hard work of the Upper Waitaki Young Farmers committee.

Mid Canterbury was well represented in the final face-off in the junior competition with three teams around the table answering quick-fire questions from MC Te Radar.

James Clark and Jack Foster from Mount Hutt College took home the title for the third consecutive year. The year 13 students were chuffed with their win and said their hard work had paid off. Both study agriculture at school and plan to head to Lincoln University next year.

Team Milking Manics from Duntroon School - Leah Wilson, Olivia Strachan and Greer Neal - emerged as the 2024 Aorangi Agrikids champions.

The top two junior and agrikids teams will also represent the region in the finals in Hamilton later this year.

The Kurow competition was the second of seven regional competitions taking place across the country between February and April.

Zac Thomas, a 29-year-old sheep, beef and arable farmer, won the Otago Southland Young Farmer of the Year earlier this month.

By Sharon Davis