10 Questions with Kate Taylor


Your book has just gone to print. Proud of it?

I am definitely proud of it. Young Farmers has been a huge part of my life and I know I’m not alone with that. How proud will depend on people’s reactions to it. I hope they love reading it as much as I’ve loved writing it.


The Young Farmer of the Year is dear to the hearts of many New Zealanders, rural and urban. Why do you think that is?

It’s a slice of Kiwiana, a slice of rural New Zealand as so many used to know it. Everyone used to know someone on a farm. Like watching Country Calendar on a Sunday night, the Young Farmer of the Year was a chance to see something many New Zealanders don’t see anymore. And how did they know the answers to all those questions?! So many people in other walks of life tell me they used to pick their favourite or run sweepstakes to get a competitor and follow them through the programme.


You’ve either interviewed or researched a large number of the 50 grand final Winners. What do they all have in common?

Each win is a team effort. I didn’t interview every winner, but those I did talk to, without fail, thanked their partners, family and friends or their Young Farmers club. No one did it alone. Also in the early days, Young Farmers was such a huge family. As an organisation, it was extremely important to young people as a means of social interaction, for meeting other people (especially of the opposite sex!) and for learning. At least a dozen people said Young Farmers had been their university. Even more said Young Farmers had been their family. Another thing they all had in common was goal-setting. No one has won the Young Farmer of the Year by accident!


Your book makes it plain that it is an enormously challenging competition. What does it take to win?

Stamina, time management, building support networks around you, a wide general knowledge and brains. I don’t mean academic brains, I mean the ability to think outside the box, use technique over brawn, plan your preparation and also your attack on the day. I love Phil Reid’s quote about there not being a textbook big enough for the Young Farmer of the Year. You have to be prepared for anything and everything.


It’s serious, but not so serious that over the past 50 years there hasn’t been a lot of fun and escapades. What’s the funniest story you were told?

Ask me about goanna wrestling. I have photos. There are many other stories that haven’t been printed in the book (we’re a professional organisation now!), so what happened on tour will have to stay on tour. Many involve serious hijinks (but ask me and I’ll tell you). There was also one about Steve Hines opening a chequebook, months after winning in 1997, and finding a cheque for $1 million, made out to the judges of the Young Farmer of the Year.


What’s one new thing you learned about the competition from working on the book?

It never ceases to amaze me how much time and effort and blood, sweat and tears have been spent on the Young Farmer of the Year. I don’t mean just the winners, but the organisers and every other contestant who didn’t ride home on a new bike. That passion has been waning a little at grassroots level in the past few decades for all but the title contenders and I hope some of the passion of the old Young Farmers in the book will rub off on the young ones. You get out what you put in. The more you put in, well, that’s obvious.


Do the grand final winners tend to become local heroes when they win?

Absolutely they do. One is Mike Cranstone from Whanganui, who didn’t win, but has a cup named in his honour for a junior farmer competition at his local school. Several have mentioned the benefits of becoming a VIP — opening A&P shows, having speaking slots, media interviews, or even 1970 winner Allan Anderson’s story about being asked to judge the Miss Horowhenua competition. Oh dear, the sacrifice …


One of the chapters tracks those winners who went on to be prominent in all sorts of fields. How did doing well in the regional finals or a grand final contribute to that?

There are so many skills required to compete in the Young Farmer of the Year and to organise one. The least of them is physical skills such as shearing, fencing or driving bikes and tractors. Personal skills such as preparation, time management and technique are huge. Soft skills such as people management are massive. Some of it is simply about the vision and the ability to seize a great opportunity with both hands and take it all the way.


You are an experienced journalist with thousands of stories under your belt, but this is your first book. How did the experience of writing it differ from your usual work?

Part of me never wants to see this book ever again. In print or radio, usually, it’s done and gone and you’re onto the next thing. With NZ Farmer magazine I was used to writing 1500-word features, but this book is 80,000-plus. The research and double-checking required for every paragraph was intense. And I know I’m sure to spot a mistake as soon as I open it. There will also be something or someone left out, and I apologise in advance for that. I couldn’t interview every winner — there are 50 of them, and there are so many others involved. Plus, I am so passionate about history and Young Farmers’ history that I massively overwrote and had to watch thousands of words plummet to the cutting-room floor. That’s never easy. I should have written five books — one for each decade!


Now the book is with the printer, what are you turning your attention to next?

I will be giving some love to the journalism and event-management clients who have been getting 50 per cent attention from me for the past 12 months. My love for history is also sending me down a new path — I love telling people’s personal histories, in their words, for their families to treasure: where they went to school, who their friends were, what games they played, what clothes they wore or chores they did, why they decided to follow a certain career path or how they met their spouse (usually the other grandparent!). It’s the 100th anniversary of Young Farmers in 2031. I’ll be nearing retirement … plenty of time to write another book?