Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Every opportunity matters when looking to do good in agriculture 

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One thing Southland’s FMG Young Farmer of the Year is keen to improve in the industry is how farmers talk about mental health and wellbeing.
Representing the Southland region, Hugh Jackson brings with him experience in two of our key industries: sheep and beef and dairy.
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Hugh Jackson doesn’t waste a second. On any given day you’ll find him on the tractor, milking, or speaking up about mental health. 

Growing up in the picturesque Te Akau, a small farming settlement north of Raglan, Hugh spent his free time as a youngster on the family sheep and beef farm. 

One of his earliest memories was slashing rushes on the tractor and drenching lambs.

When he wasn’t fencing or working with stock, he was running down to the coast to fish and surf, as the family farm lies on the coast of the Tasman Sea.

“Having that real upbringing, not being wrapped in cotton wool, and having the opportunity to do those sorts of things was a highlight growing up. It’s something town kids don’t get, so I feel really privileged,” he says.

It was this upbringing that inspired Hugh to pursue farming as a career. In 2017 he moved to Palmerston North to study Agri Commerce. He joined the Massey Young Farmers’ Club and was appointed vice-chair two years later.

LISTEN: Farmers Weekly cadet Emma Blom Emma chats to Hugh Jackson ahead of the Grand Final.

In 2020 he was picked for DairyNZ’s graduate programme, running events and facilitating discussions between farmers for two years out of Invercargill and Ashburton. 

Now Hugh is a herd manager on a 600-cow dairy farm in Taramoa, Southland. He met share milkers Sam Hodsell and Jenna Hansen through the Thornbury Young Farmers Club. 

“I wanted to give hands-on dairy farming a crack. I got on really well with Sam and Jen and knew that they were looking for staff so I made the move south. I’ve learnt a lot from these top operators and really enjoy being back in Southland.”  

“Each day I assist in running the day-to-day operation. This entails milking, feeding out, setting up breaks, feeding calves, fencing … whatever needs doing on the farm, really.” 

Reflecting on his performance at the Otago Southland Regional Final in March, he’s stoked to have won.

“My experience so far has prepared me fairly well. I wanted to give it a good crack, and with the Young Farmer’s competition, a win is never guaranteed. I’ve had a few goes before and come up short so it was awesome to get across the line.”

Hugh is busy preparing for July’s Grand Final. He’s doing everything he can to sharpen up, spending his days off improving skills he doesn’t feel he’s particularly good at. 

Hugh already knows what he’d like to do if he wins. 

“If I was to win, I would hope that I could help encourage others to get into farming and promote the industry in a good light,” he says. “Agriculture is something I’m passionate about and I’m looking to do good in it.”

One thing he’d like to improve in the industry is how farmers talk about mental health and wellbeing. 

“I’m pretty passionate about it. I’ve had my own experiences with it, so I know what it’s like to ask for help,” he says.

He hopes to see people enjoying their farming careers whatever step of the ladder they’re on.
“There’s always room for improvement to look after our farm teams, and retention is key. Something I’d like to see get better is the industry’s ability to hold onto staff and help support them to reach their goals. It’s a two-way street, and we need to create outcomes where both parties win.”

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