Working nonstop to bring back the prize

NEIL RATLEY
Last updated 05:00 14/05/2014
dean rabbidge
NICOLE JOHNSTONE/ Fairfax NZ
DILIGENT STUDENT: Glenham farmer Dean Rabbidge leaves his gumboots at the door after milking his cows and hits the books ahead of the ANZ Young Farmer Contest grand final in July.

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A young Southland farmer is looking to break a drought in the region.

It has been almost a decade since a southern farmer has been crowned the nation's young farmer of the year.

Glenham farmer Dean Rabbidge is working hard to put Southland farming back on the map at this year's ANZ Young Farmer Contest in Christchurch in July.

"The heat is on," the 28-year-old acknowledges as he sips on a cup of coffee and flips through the well worn pages of the Lincoln University's Farm Technical Manual.

It's the same copy Rabbidge swatted over when he was studying for his BCom in Agriculture at the university 7 years ago.

"There is a pretty strong heritage from Southland in the event," he says.

Southern farmers dominated the young farmers contest during the last decade, when the contest was won by Southern young farmers for three consecutive years - Robert Kempthorne in 2003, Simon Hopcroft (2004) and David Holdaway (2005).

Rabbidge made the national finals last year and finished fifth.

The disappointment of that result has fuelled the young dairy farmer to have another crack at bringing the trophy back to Southland.

He will have to out farm and out think six other regional winners in hands-on tests, commercial, business and management tests, a human resource challenge, a 40-minute presentation and a panel interview.

It is a busy time for Rabbidge.

On top of milking the cows and preparing for the young farmers contest, he and his wife Sarah are expecting their first baby in mid-June.

The cows are waiting at the shed at 5am. The gumboots then come off and are left at the front door for four or five hours while he hits the books and then it's appointments and meetings in the afternoon. At night there may be a bit more study.

"I feel guilty at the moment if I've got some free time and am not studying," Rabbidge says.

His wife was not a farmer - they met at Gallipoli when they were on the same Anzac tour - but since entering the young farmer contests, her farming knowledge was improving as well, Rabbidge smiles.

"I have a folder with 1600 farming questions which Sarah tests me on."

In the weeks leading up to the contest Sarah, who will have other things on her mind, will get help building up her husband's farming knowledge.

"The Wyndham Young Farmers Club will be dropping in for a quiz night and a couple of beers one night a week," Rabbidge says.

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The focus was on the theory side of the contest because the number of physical challenges the judges could throw at the finalists made it impossible to nail down which ones to practice for, he explains.

A lifetime on the farm and some common sense should help with the hands-on stuff, he says.

Winning the "ultimate rural challenge" means a lot to Rabbidge. He wants to prove to himself he can claim the crown; he wants to win it for his family and his mates and for the region.

"While being in the grand finals allows you to make a lot of industry contacts and is good for your career, when you get this far you want to win it," he says.

The cows are drying up, so he can spend more time inside studying.

But in five weeks Rabbidge will be getting up even earlier with the arrival of his first baby.

"I am getting nervous. I don't know if it's because of the baby or because of the contest," he admits.

"I think it's the contest." 

- The Southland Times

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