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Top agriculture student shares secret of success

James Robertson on his three years at Massey.

Bachelor of AgriCommerce student James Robertson is your classic jack of all trades, but rather than mastering none, he excelled in everything he put his hand up for.

Growing up on a dairy farm in the Waikato region with two brothers, he says his parents stressed three things above all else: to be happy in whatever they were doing, to be committed to any responsibility or task they took on, and to work for everything they wanted.

“When I was at school I wanted to be a farmer but had no idea about the wider opportunities in the agricultural industry. I preferred to spend my time working on farms around the district, particularly over summer. I suppose this made me appreciate that a 9am to 3pm school day is almost a holiday in itself and I never stressed too much about grades.”

However, for someone who didn’t stress, the Hamilton Boys’ High School student was obtaining  impressive results with excellence endorsements in NCEA levels 1, 2 and 3, as well as a number of scholarships, giving him a range of options as a school-leaver.

But after competing in the Junior Young Farmers competition, where he and team mate Regan Kidd managed to win in 2013, he decided he wanted to study agriculture at university.

“Waikato would have been the easy option for me but I was keen to see what Palmerston North had to offer. The agriculture degree at Waikato didn’t offer the same scope of practical and networking opportunities, and the Massey Young Farmers Club was a massive draw card.

“I really enjoyed accounting and economics at school so a Bachelor of AgriCommerce ticked all the boxes.”

Once enrolled and with his boots on the ground at the University’s Manawatū campus, he took every opportunity given to him.

James won a number of academic prizes, such as the 2016 Property Institute of New Zealand Top Student prize, and a DairyNZ Scholar for three years. He was named the University’s Agriculture Student of the Year in 2017, and won the William Gerrish Memorial Award – the first person ever in the awards’ 16 years to gain both.

“Studying agriculture is something unique. It’s like a business and science degree mixed up with a primary industry setting. In one lecture, you might be learning about how futures work in the US wheat market and the next you are working out the present value of a potential investment in a centre pivot irrigation system on a Foxton dairy farm.”

“You’ll build the same skills as any other student but be exposed to a whole new world of opportunities within an industry looking for graduates. Your skills are transferable and studying Ag doesn’t restrict any other career options.”

The Young Farmers Club was an important part of his time at the University as Treasurer in his second year and Chairman in his last.

“The Massey Young Farmers Club is awesome. It is what you make of it and being the largest [Young Farmers] club in the country, there are certainly plenty of opportunities. The club provides plenty of social events but also helps to build governance, public speaking, event and people management skills during university.

“It all comes down to creating a good environment. Surrounding yourself with positive people that help fuel passion but most importantly push you to have fun and make the most of any experience. I look up to different friends who achieve academically, contribute to the community, have positive attitudes and know how to have a good time.

“You will learn a lot from your lecturers during your degree but you will learn so much more from the people around you. Your year group has a range people from different backgrounds, parts of the country, farming systems and cities. Whether you’re confused about a certain topic in a paper or looking for a summer work placement, I can guarantee that someone in your class can help you out.”

James Robertson, Sam Pike and Kieran McCahon at the Massey Ag Dinner.

Beyond the classroom

Outside of his schoolwork, he has won national awards for stock judging, represented Manawatu Young Farmers for Federated Farmers, as well as mentoring the Teen Ag Group at Palmerston North Boys’ High School. 

He also found time to play in the University’s Under 21 A rugby team for all three years, and even managed the team last year. “The Massey vs Lincoln exchange is always one of the highlights of the year for me. The trip down to Lincoln in 2017 with such a large group made it a memorable experience.”

“Uni is the perfect opportunity to gain some independence and truly build some time management skills, especially when you take on sports and co-curricular responsibilities.”

James has taken his success to the Fonterra International Sales Graduate Programme, which he will begin in February 2018. 

“The plan is to find out what I really enjoy, what motivates me and pursue it. I’d love to be able to spend some time travelling and working in the future. I’ve always been keen to one day own a block of land/farm, so that’s definitely a future goal.

“If I was to give one tip to any student going to study – and particularly in Ag – it would be to make the most of the network in your year group and those above and below. The Ag class at Massey is unique. I can’t think of any degrees in which you can get to know your entire class, and that holds its own exchange, annual ball, and has a club with 250 members.”

Looking back on his time at the University, he concludes; “Massey University – you’ve been outstanding: three years, two flats, 24 papers, 42 tests and exams, 49 assignments totalling 243,271 words, 37 games of footy, 23 flights, 3 Lincoln exchanges, 1578 hours in the tractor cab, more bottles of rum than fingers, too many dusty mornings, and no regrets – can’t wait to bring on the next adventures!”

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