NZ Merino took out the Supreme Award at the 2019 New Zealand International Business Awards.
Athol New (31) was awarded the title and draped with the winner's 'Cloak of Knowledge at a gala event in Timaru, earlier this month, topping off two gruelling days of competition.
New admitted being "very surprised" at the win. He won none of the individual modules and put in a shaky quiz round but took the overall title with solid second and third placings in the rest of the competition.
"The hardest bit for me was the quiz evening. It was a big step up in the level of questions they were asking this year," he told Rural News. "Spending those two days with six great guys was probably the bit I enjoyed most."
New first contested the Young Farmers award three seasons ago, when his wife Jane signed him up and he came fourth in the district final. He came third in the Aorangi regional event last year.
Originally a townie from Kamo, Northland, New did not grow up on a farm; he "fell in love" with cows during time on farms as a teenager. He credits his high school agriculture teacher with encouraging him to study for a BComAg degree at Lincoln University and has worked fulltime in the industry ever since.
He joined Purata Farms (a subsidiary of Synlait Milk) in 2007. Until recently he managed one 2300-cow farm but as from June 1 he now works as an operations manager on three of their properties.
New says he is in the industry for the long term.
"I enjoy cows and enjoy the people involved in dairy. Yeah, it's going through a tough patch at the moment, but that provides opportunities for people like me. When there's a crisis there's always opportunities for people willing to capture them."
NZ Young Farmers chief executive Terry Copeland says New represents the often unacknowledged high-achievers of the primary industry, describing him as embodying the wide array of skills those in the industry need to succeed.
"This contest showcases the extraordinary depth of talent we have in the agricultural sector and continues to help progress and discover vital leadership for the sector. From Whangarei with no farming background to managing multi-million- dollar complex dairy businesses and now winning the FMG Young Farmer of the Year, Athol shows the exciting opportunities in our industry."
FMG's (chief sponsor of the competition) chief operations officer Conrad Wilkshire says, "Athol's win is testament to what can be achieved if you're prepared to see yourself, and invest in yourself, as a leader.
"His strong showing in this contest means the real opportunity actually lies in front of him now. He's set himself a wonderful platform to become a great ambassador for the dairy industry.... We should all be excited by what this guy will achieve for agriculture in New Zealand".
New takes away $80,000 in prizes but said he wasn't sure what that entailed. He had entered for the prestige "and to be able to put that green Cloak of Knowledge on".