Age no barrier in skills tester

Daryna Zadvirna and Ann RawlingsCountryman
Young Farmers Challenge entrant and agribusiness student Lawson Harper with dog Koda at his farm in Chidlow.
Camera IconYoung Farmers Challenge entrant and agribusiness student Lawson Harper with dog Koda at his farm in Chidlow. Credit: Justin Benson-Cooper

The Young Farmers Challenge will once again set the scene at the Dowerin GWN7 Machinery Field Days, albeit with a slightly different outlook on agriculture.

This year the event welcomes two new streams of competitors, Experienced Farmers for those over 35 and Future Farmers for those under 18, proof that age is no barrier to farming fun.

While the design of the 2019 challenge is a tightly held secret, similar skills will be required from the teams of four, who will be judged on their speed and agility in completing the tasks at hand.

For agribusiness student Lawson Harper, the Young Farmers Challenge for 18 to 35-year-olds is a chance to network with his peers and show off his farm skills.

Mr Harper, who hails from Chidlow and is undertaking an Associate Degree in Agribusiness at Muresk Institute, will be competing among a team of representatives from the Muresk Students Association.

Mr Harper said those in the tight-knit unit may only be young, but they were serious about the business of farming.

“Our team is pretty close and we know each other very well, so I think we most certainly have a good chance of winning,” he said.

Teams in last year’s competition undertook challenges including carrying a person in a swag, identifying seed, finding pipe-fitting parts in a hay-filled trough, classing wool and mustering feral farm animals — or, rather, Dowerin locals dressed as farm animals.

The unknown has been weighing on the mind of Experienced Farmers challenger-to-be Paul Millsteed, who found himself signed up to compete almost out of the blue.

Despite his wife Jen Millsteed being a part of the events team, and party to the 2019 arrangements, he has been kept in the dark about the challenges to come.

“Jen put my name in (to compete) and said, ‘Oh, he’ll do it’. But the first time I found out about it was when someone from Countryman rang me and asked if they could talk to me about it. I said, ‘I think I better talk to my wife’. So I was dobbed in more than anything,” he said.

Mr Millsteed said he had then “baled up a couple of mates” — including Shane Melvin and Darren Lee — to join in the fun.

With cropping and sheep part of the family farming operation north-west of Dowerin, the experienced farmer said he and the team would have a thing or two to show youngsters in the game.

But first, Mr Millsteed will have to tear himself away from a job somewhat more time consuming — managing the Apex Bar. “I’ve got no idea what to expect, but we’re just going to have a bit of fun,” he said.

Field days assistant event co-ordinator Tiffany Davey said the 2018 competition had been popular with both competitors and onlookers, prompting the move to broaden its horizons.

A bid to link the Young Farmers Challenge with the national competition, the Australian Young Farmer Challenge, has also proven to be successful.

Ms Davey said the field days team had been working alongside members of the NextGenWA committee, a collaboration between the Royal Agricultural Society of WA and Agricultural Shows Australia, to develop competition regulations specific to WA.

“The NextGenWA committee aims to help revitalise the show movement in the State,” she said.

“As part of this, I attended the Sydney Royal to steward its Young Farmer Challenge to get my head around how the competition works at a national level, meet up with the other NextGen committees and work with ASA.”

Ms Davey said WA was now officially on the national circuit, with the team who wins at Dowerin Field Days eligible to compete at the State final at the Perth Royal Show.

Those who nab the State title will go on to compete in the 2020 AYFC.

“It took more than a year to set up officially. NextGenWA is now trying to get regional shows to also run young farmer challenges and send a team to the Royal this year,” Ms Davey said.

“But we got WA on the grid — we want to show that the west can be the best.”

  • The Future Farmers Challenge is at 2.30pm and the Young Farmers Challenge at 3pm in the Machinery Demo Area on Wednesday, followed by the Experienced Farmers Challenge in the Apex Bar at 3.45pm. Entries are accepted on the day.

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