Work-Sport Competition: The Role of Agricultural Contests in New Zealand

Article excerpt


Contests that take place within the rural mileu have tended to be ignored. Yet a wide range of contests are associated with the rural/ agricultural lifestyle. In New Zeahnd, for example, there are contests which judge specialised agricultural skills such as shearing, fencing, wood chopping or pruning, as well as those which assess assorted skills to find the Young Farmer of the Year' or the 'Sharemilker of the Year'. This paper starts from a consideration of leisure and sports theory to explain why such contests have become significant public events. Contests based on work skills present a challenge, as they do not separate work and play as is usually accepted in leisure definitions. Overall the research on this specific topic is sparse. The development of three agricultural competitions is then explored, along with their contribution to knowledge and skill acquisition within New Zeaknd agriculture. Suggestions are made for future research.


Work, Knowledge, Skills, Contests, Sport, Competitions, Agriculture

Received 21 January 2005 Accepted 31 January 2007


Many industries have traditions of recognising and rewarding their best The arts, for example, have awards for acting, singing and writing; the service industries recognise the best hairdresser, the best waiter and die best chefs; and many industrial trades award excellence. While country fairs and agricultural shows have long included die spectacles of 'agricultural' contests such as wood chopping and shearing, there are many other agricultural work-skills contests that judge the "best' in die industry, judging skill and technique through the display of stock or crops and farming success. This paper presents an exploratory investigation of the rationale for worker competitions and considers them with reference to three New Zealand agricultural contests: the Young Farmer of the y^ ^. Golden Shears, and the Silver Secateurs.

Theoretically, the paper draws heavily on many of the ideas presented in the only other work found on this subject, Zarnowski's (2004) 'Working at play: The phenomenon of 19th century worker-competitions'. Zarnowski (2004) found that wodi-sports in America operate on three different planes: they are educational, they o ffer a means for workers to publicly display their skills for a range of reasons, and they are entertainment for the public. There has also been limited discussion of agricultural contests in a number of papers that focus on broader aspects of rural society. Such contests, for example, may be considered important for both worker socialisation and for production expertise. They may also have strong community or cultural meanings, and offer exhibitions of performance or spectacle. The resultant paper is something of a hybrid because it cuts across traditional disciplinary boundaries between the histories of work and sport, agricultural education and extension. It is the authors' intention to explore ideas and ways in which theory 'might' explain the practice of agricultural contests, and to draw attention to an area of interest that has, thus far, been largely ignored in the social sciences.

Agricultural contests

While agricultural contests have attracted little specific attention in academic literature, they can be considered from a variety of theoretical perspectives. Zarnowski (2004), for example, examined 19th century American workercompetitions, defined as "physical contests derived from alabourer's occupation" (p. 258), through a synthesis of labour and sporting history. He considered issues of worker alienation, productivity, and the nature of leisure time as both an explanation of, and rationale for, these worker-competitions. Although they closely resemble formal sporting competitions, there has been a surprising lack of interest in worker-competitions from sports historians (Zarnowski, 2004). They do, however, feature in historical accounts of leisure, and are of special interest in terms of the work-leisure relationship. …