This article was originally published by Countryman, Wednesday 21 September 2022

An unsuspecting team of three farmers and an agronomist are off to the Perth Royal Show after winning this year’s Mingenew Midwest Expo Young Farmers Challenge against a record turnout of five other teams.

Organisers were “absolutely rapt” with the numbers — the biggest of any WA Young Farmers Challenge in the competition’s history — with six teams of four competing for a $600 cash prize and the chance to qualify for the Perth Royal Show state final in September.

The winning team was comprised of Mingenew farmers Clint Chivers, Jack Mills, and Jack Mitchell, as well as Dongara agronomist Maddi George.

The three boys’ practical farming skills were bolstered by the intellect of Ms George, who grew up in and lives in Dongara – where she works as an agronomist for Great Northern Rural.

The group of friends had no plans to enter the event until they were tapped on the shoulder by Expo board member Tiarna Kanny, who encouraged them — and a handful of the other teams — to put themselves forward.

Ms George said she believed the team’s strong planning skills pushed them into top spot.

“We were quick but well-planned with our efforts, we had some good planning and good knowledge by the boys – like changing the tyre and using the air compressor,” she said.

“I think I was able to really help with the agronomy section. We all love working in agriculture.”

It was a dream run for the team, who finished the course in just over eight minutes, followed by the team from CSBP — all donning matching blue checked shirts — who came in at 10 minutes on the dot.

As the day wrapped up and exhibitors packed down their stalls, the crowd settled in at the bar for a sundowner, some live music and to cheer on their mates and provide some friendly rivalry.

It was the “perfect” end to a great day at Expo, organiser Billi Marshall said.

“I’m rapt with how it turned out and I’m really grateful for the support we got from everyone who competed,” she said.

“I think running it in the evening was ideal — we had some really good support and banter from the crowd which was great.”

While advertising the competition ahead of time, Ms Marshall — who is a member of the Royal Agricultural Society WA’s Next Gen Ag committee responsible for running the challenges — said they did not push for pre-registrations.

Instead, she and Ms Kanny rallied teams together at the end of the day, which she said worked out well, mixing farmers with university students, agronomists and other industry workers in Mingenew for the day.

“Everyone was having a pretty good time,” Ms Kanny said.

“I think everyone liked that it was pretty casual and didn’t really matter about your experience — it was more about teamwork.

“I think it was good that it didn’t really exclude any level of knowledge and experience.”

The teams of four were put through their paces with fencing, pumping up a tyre, untangling and rolling straps, cleaning a workshop and answering a series of agronomy questions.

The equipment was provided by Next Gen Ag, which has a Young Farmers Challenge trailer set up for agricultural societies and committees to use to run the events, to make it easier and less costly.

As well as racing the clock, Ms Kanny and Ms Marshall were on the sidelines taking note of any unsafe or sloppy behaviour, adding time penalties for anyone not cleaning up after their tasks or not doing the job properly.

“There was some terrible fencing on display,” Ms Marshall said, laughing.

“There were some very wonky star pickets put in.

“But that’s all part of it, speed isn’t everything and that’s what actually caught some teams out in the end.

“You can rush through but if one of your star pickets was facing the wrong way, you copped a 30-second time penalty. There is a reason to do the job properly, you do it once and do it right.”

Ms Marshall said the number of participants — which she believed was the most of any Young Farmers Challenge in WA since its inception — gave them the opportunity to run two teams at the same time, adding an element of pressure and excitement as they raced each other.

Having been such a hit, Ms Marshall encouraged other agricultural societies to consider running it at their next event.

“I’ve actually even been approached by businesses who already offered to sponsor the event for next year, because it just adds that bit of fun and adds that atmosphere.

“I couldn’t have couldn’t have seen a better end to the day and expo then having our Young Farmers pan out the way it did.

“I think overall, it’s a really positive thing and for the industry that’s what we need to highlight and focus on — the work that’s going on behind the scenes that the public doesn’t see that farmers are doing every day.”

The Perth Royal Show Young Farmers Challenge state final will be held on Saturday, September 24 from 4.30-5.30pm.