Farmers Apprentice winner embarks on NZ adventure

Having won the coveted Farmers Apprentice competition and the £10,000 cash prize to invest in his farming future, Sam Coote has begun another adventure – heading to New Zealand.

“I felt this was the perfect opportunity to explore another part of the world and see a different type of agriculture,” says the 23-year-old from County Durham.

He’s now working in South Canterbury with the McKerchar family at Merrylea Farm – a Hereford stud with 220 cows and about 1,000 breeding ewes across 500ha of rolling hill land.

“They’re very much on top of the game in terms of genetics, EBVs and pedigrees here so it’s a great learning experience for me,” says Sam.

Having beaten off tough competition from 250 other applicants to claim the title, Sam headed to NZ in October and, after a brief spell travelling around Auckland, headed to South Island where he landed the job.

Amazing place

“It’s amazing here, it’s a gorgeous place – and I’m learning so much,” he says.

He had worked in the UK over the summer to save some cash so he didn’t have to dip into his prize money to fund the trip.

“I just wanted to put that away in a bank account so I can think about the best way to spend it in the future. If I was able to find some land to start up my own flock, then I’d invest it in buying some sheep to get myself set away. Another option would be to spend some of it on additional training such as doing my trailer test.

Sam is working on a Hereford stud on New Zealand’s South Island

“If the day comes where I’m fortunate enough to be running and owning my own place, I’d very much like it to be a mixed operation with beef cattle, sheep and maybe some arable cropping. In today’s farming industry you need a versatile business with different enterprises that will complement each other well. There’s no point in keeping all your eggs in one basket!”

Although not from a farming background, Sam has always been passionate about agriculture and recently graduated with a first in Agricultural Management from Askham Bryan College.

He says he’s still “in shock” at having won the Farmers Weekly contest, but now sees it as a “once-in-a -lifetime opportunity” to fast-track his career – and hugely values the chance he’ll get to be mentored by one of the judges, the highly respected Robert Neill.

Lifelong memories

“I’ll have so many lifelong memories from the experience,” he says. “The talk from Robert about his farm and his outlook on farming was perhaps the most inspiring part of the week.

“All the apprentices really bonded as a group, so we’d love to visit the Scottish Borders to visit Robert and see his farm. That will be the perfect reunion.”

Sam now plans to return to the UK in May 2019. “When I get back, I’ll have to see what jobs and opportunities are out there, but gaining experience in different sectors of the industry can only really put me on a good footing for the future.”

“I so nearly didn’t enter this competition,” recalls Sam. “ I was frantically busy with college work and lambing and wasn’t sure if I’d have the time and doubted whether I’d get selected anyway – but I also knew that opportunities like that don’t come along very often so you have to grab them with both hands.

“Over the last few years, people have sometimes questioned why I’d set my heart on being a farmer. But I’ve always known that’s what I’ve wanted to do.

“I was once in the position where I knew nothing and no one in the industry and even struggled to get a work experience placement. Now I feel as if anything’s possible.”

See also: Farmers Apprentice 2018 winner revealed