Waimate farmer John Mehrtens takes out North Otago district Young Farmer contest

John Mehrtens says he will have to "knuckle down" and swot up on current events for the next round of the Young Farmer ...
Pat Deavoll

John Mehrtens says he will have to "knuckle down" and swot up on current events for the next round of the Young Farmer contest in April.

A cool head, common sense in spades, and raw skill saw John Mehrtens take out the North Otago district Young Farmer contest.

The 29-year-old, who had taken part in the contest the year before and come a creditable fourth, had little trouble with the tasks which included driving a digger, installing an irrigation line, crutching a ewe and answering questions on fertiliser, safety, livestock and alcohol. The contest was held at Southern Canterbury A&P Show last month.

"I entered the competition for fun and did no preparation. At district level I feel it's more about participation than anything serious. That doesn't mean it's not tense: at one stage we were given a topic and told to deliver a two-minute speech. And there is the "buzzer" quiz-round where you just have to be really confident and hit that button."

Mehrtens is working on his tactics leading up to the next round of competition in Ashburton in April.

"I won't be doing much until harvest is over," he said. "There are certain practical things you can be certain will be there, like chainsaws, fencing etc and I can manage that stuff.

"I'll have to knuckle down and swot up on current events. Like the forecast payout for milksolids, Reserve Bank interest rates, basic stuff like who is the minister of primary industries etc.

"Because I'm getting close to the age cut-off [of 31] for the competition I'd like to think I have experience on my side, without sounding cocky."

Mehrtens has worked for Nichol Farming Ltd at Makikihi for the past three years. The property is mainly cropping but does run 30 yearling cattle. 

His heritage is farming - his parents had a mixed sheep and cropping farm at Morven until the late 1990s, and his grandfather still farms his sheep and beef property at Waihao Downs.

But he was uncertain whether he would become a farmer until he did a Bachelor of Agriculture at Lincoln University. The day after graduating, he flew out for the United States to work the "2000 mile harvest." Eight months driving a combine harvester up and down the Midwest and he was back in New Zealand, but not for long. The next two and a half years he spent in the United Kingdom, interspersing work on a cropping and pig farm with travelling. 

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"Eventually I got sick of living out of a suitcase, came home to see family, and stepped into the job with Nichol Farming," he said.

Cropping and arable farming appears to be where his future will lie.

"Yes, I think so; I enjoy the machinery side of it. It is extremely technical – you can't just let anybody drive a harvester with GPS and auto-steer. You have to know what you are doing to get the most out of those machines. I haven't been drawn to dairy. I had to do it as a practical component for my degree and didn't really take to the monotony of milking. I don't mind the early starts - we have our busy times as well - but I think there is more variety in cropping. I would probably quite enjoy dairy support. I like working with stock."

Mehrtens said he would like to get his own cropping farm, although it would be a difficult path

"At the very least I'd like to have a small block of land I can do some stuff on while I work. I'd like to get into farm management in the next five years; either a cropping farm or dairy support. But there is still plenty of time."

 - Stuff.co.nz

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