Brady Mitchell went into farming only because he needed somewhere to house his pig dogs.
These days the 27-year-old Reporoa dairy farm manager has little time for pig hunting, but he and partner Amber Broderson are vying for a spot in the 2012 New Zealand Dairy Industry Awards.
They have a bit of an edge over some of the other contestants, too.
In 2009, Mitchell walked away from the regional Central Plateau contest with the title of Dairy Trainee, and last year was announced runner-up in the farm manager section.
The couple manage Broderson's grandparents' property, Lesdale Friesian - a 142ha farm milking 207 cows and growing young stock and bulls.
Mitchell says he has gained a lot from entering previous years' competitions.
"It has given us a lot of insight into how we manage the business. It helps you focus on your business," he says. "It really boosts your confidence ... from the job interview section to the training and networking, you gain a lot."
The hardest part of the competition for Mitchell was signing up.
"Once you enter you are committed, really."
As for getting the judges on your side, he has one piece of advice for other contestants.
"Just be honest. You benefit so much from the judges' feedback and comments. Make sure you have everything together."
This young farmer readily admits he entered the industry just to home his dogs but he's definitely creaming the benefits.
"I was a mechanic in Tauranga and when I started hunting I couldn't have dogs in town so looked at farming," he says. "It all went to plan for me. It was quite a good move for me. I saw there was a massive future in it if you put yourself into working. It's an industry you can move up in quite fast. It's up to you ... hunting is definitely few and far between these days."
He and Broderson have completed Agriculture ITO courses - she as a modern apprentice.
They are among 24 Central North Island contestants vying for a spot at the nationals.
Meanwhile, competition judges will visit their farm on February 21, with Central Plateau winners announced at a special function in Rotorua on March 17, heading to the national finals at SkyCity in Auckland on May 12.
Judging has begun in the rigorous process to select winners from around the country from the record number of 525 national entrants.
Entrants are split among 12 regions, with regional competitions selecting the best to go on to the national finals.
Further judging will determine the winners in the Sharemilker/Equity Farmer of the Year, Farm Manager of the Year and Dairy Trainee of the Year contests.
National convenor Chris Keeping says by the end of March the 525 entrants would have been whittled to 36 regional winners heading to the final.
Three will earn national honours in May, vying for a slice of a $54,000 prize pool of cash, goods and products.
"Entrants may think the odds of winning are against them, but we like to think all entrants are winners in the awards - by either meeting new people, learning something about themselves, setting new goals or by making improvements to their farm business," she says.
Judging takes place throughout February and involves entrants in a two-hour on-farm presentation in the sharemilker/equity farmer and farm manager contests.
"It's really important entrants have planned how they manage this time and we try to encourage them to be original and unique, and to really demonstrate their passion for dairy farming. They should also outline their future plans and career goals," says Keeping, adding that those who gain the most from judging are the best organised.
"It is recommended entrants read the judging criteria, seek advice from past entrants about what to expect, have a practice run-through and avoid any distractions," she says.
As part of their judging criteria, entrants in the dairy trainee contest will compete in a 30-minute practical session in a central location,
Further information on the awards can be found at: www.dairyindustryawards.co.nz