Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Next generation ready to take its shot at Young Farmer title

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Growing up on his family’s west coast dairy farm, Aorangi representative Peter O’Connor always knew he wanted to be a dairy farmer.
Now, only a few years out of university, Peter O’Connor has risen up to a management position on a 400-cow dairy farm near Lauriston.
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For Peter O’Connor, competing in FMG Young Farmer of the Year runs in the family. 

“Dad and his brothers competed when they were younger and got pretty close, but never actually made it to a Grand Final. It’s always been a challenge I’ve wanted to take a crack at.”

Back in 2006, Peter watched his first Grand Final with his dad and grandfather in Greymouth. Attracted by the fast-paced challenge and prestigious “Young Farmer of the Year” title, Peter has long wanted to compete.

Now he’s living that dream. After securing the title of Aorangi FMG Young Farmer of the Year in April, Peter is preparing to compete in his first Grand Final – head-to-head against his younger brother, Nick. 

“Obviously, I don’t want to let him win,” laughs Peter.

Both boys grew up on the family farm in Westport. Peter says he always loved farming, even if it wasn’t something he initially saw in his future.

“I always enjoyed helping Dad out on the farm when I was little, and I learnt to drive a tractor from a young age. I learnt to think practically, so that’s always been of interest to me.”

In his last year of high school, Peter traded his dreams of being an engineer for a life on the farm. He couldn’t see himself at a desk job anymore.

“A job that was outdoors and working with people and farm animals was more up my alley. So it was a no-brainer for me.”

During his time at Lincoln University, Peter did two seasons of silage contracting (including one in Australia) before graduating with a Bachelor of Agricultural Science. He reckons his time overseas gives him an edge in the competition. 

“Over there, you always had to be paying attention to detail to make sure things didn’t go wrong. I think that’s the same with the competition where every point counts, so making sure you do things right the first time is important.”

Peter went into dairy full-time last season and was second in charge on a 900-cow dairy farm. Soon after he was named Dairy Trainee of the Year at the New Zealand Dairy Industry Awards.

Now managing a 400-cow dairy farm near Methven, Peter wakes up to the Lyndhurst sunrise to milk cows, shift irrigation, set up fencing, and do whatever else is needed depending on the season. Every task is setting him up well in preparation for the Grand Final. But, he says, there’s still a lot that needs doing.

“There are lots of different things we could get asked to do at the Grand Final so I’m trying to prepare for as many of those as possible.”

If he won, Peter says he’d use the platform to increase awareness of career pathways in the industry. 

“There’s lots of progression opportunities in the sector. It’s a great industry to work in, I love working outdoors, and I love promoting that to other people. Farming might not sound like a career to some but if I could use my Grand Final title to change that for the better I would.”

Plus, he can’t wait to see his family cheering from the sidelines. It’s all about continuing the tradition. 

“Young Farmers is held in high regard in New Zealand so it’s a very prestigious award. It gets you more recognised among farmers and potential employers and gives you a platform to be a positive changemaker. I’d be very honoured to win.”

More: Farmers Weekly cadet Emma Blom Emma chats to Peter O’Connor ahead of the Grand Final. Listen below

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