Leadership win for James Hurst at NZ Young Farmers National Awards

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Awamoko farmer James Hurst received a leadership award at the recent New Zealand National Young Farmer Awards. Photo / Kayla Hodge

James Hurst is no longer the ‘quiet little guy in the back’.

The Awamoko farmer found his passion and confidence in the Young Farmer Network and rose through the ranks of the organization regionally and nationally.

Hurst’s contribution has been recognized, receiving a National Leadership Award at the recent New Zealand National Young Farmer Awards in Whangarei.

Growing up on his family farm, Invernia, a 2700 ha beef, sheep and dairy farm in Awamoko, Hurst was exposed to the industry from an early age.

Seven years ago, while living and working in Omarama, he decided to join the Upper Waitaki Young Farmers Club.

It was a chance to get off the farm and meet other like-minded young people in Omarama.

“Obviously when I first joined the team, I was just the quiet little guy in the back who didn’t talk to anyone,” Hurst said.

After his first year, the club was struggling with numbers – with only three members remaining – and he decided to raise his hand as chairman to move it forward.

He helped increase the membership to around 20 – and there are now around 30 people involved.

He then returned to Invernia and became second in charge of the farm, to his father, Russell, and joined Five Forks Young Farmers.

It didn’t take long for Hurst to raise his hand to help regionally, and in 2019 he became president of the Aorangi Regional Young Farmers.

At the time, the nine clubs in the Aorangi area – from Hinds to Five Forks – were “struggling” for numbers and had no contingency plan.

When Hurst took over, he put in place succession plans to help strengthen the clubs and region, increase membership and introduce more training opportunities.

He even introduced five vice presidents below him to ensure there were several capable people to take over when he left.

“Everybody sort of laughed at the time, but it worked,” he said.

When he started as regional chairman there were 154 members across the nine clubs, which had risen to 187 when he stepped down last year.

The number of clubs has been reduced to seven.

“Which sounds bad when you’ve lost clubs but we haven’t lost any members because there’s [were] neighboring clubs, so we actually increased in numbers.”

Thanks to its regional role, being part of the New Zealand Young Farmers Committee has become “integral”.

From 2019 to 2021, he served on the committee and was chairman of the tournament sub-committee.

Although he was always a natural leader, his participation in the national committee allowed him to further develop his skills, participate in courses and witness the leadership style of others.

“When we were at the grand final, a lot of people kind of came up to me and said they got some leadership ideas from me,” he said.

“When I started, I was doing the same [from] the other people.

“What I said when I gave the speech was how lucky we are in rural industry to have so many leadership opportunities.”

Young Farmers has helped him connect with other like-minded farmers across the country and meet “future leaders” in the industry, he said.

Wanting to see young farmers continue to move in the right direction, Hurst started a mentorship program for the organization and took on the role of regional mentor this year.

Aorangi is the pilot region for the mentorship program, along with three other mentors he has yet to meet.

“When I was club president we had funding that had territory managers, paid staff on the pitch and we don’t have that funding anymore, so we lost that kind of help.

“It’s more about getting that help in clubs, advice and knowledge of history.”

Young Farmers helped prepare him for the next phase of his career.

He was recently named vice president of meat and wool for North Otago Federated Farmers.

“I was looking for the next step.”

For a man who is busy enough on the farm, his Young Farmer and leadership work has become almost an escape.

“It’s more my hobby instead of playing sports or whatever – it’s kind of a community thing.”

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