“I know I’m working in a space where I can have the most impact…spending time with farmers and supporting the environment at the same time.”
Name: Clare Buchanan
Grew up: Canada and Bermuda
Role: Farm environmental consultant
Pathway: Bachelor of Science (Environmental)
You were born in Canada and grew up in Bermuda. What is your connection with New Zealand?
My dad is a New Zealander and owns four dairy farms in mid-Canterbury so after I graduated from university in Canada, I took the opportunity to help him with his farms’ environmental compliance.
What is your current role?
I’m a Farm Environmental Consultant for Ravensdown. I work one-to-one with farmers to help them comply with environmental standards set by their region’s land and water management plans.
In 1991, New Zealand’s Resource Management Act (RMA) required each region to come up with rules to manage its land and water. Canterbury managed to do that but some regions didn’t, so the government is in the process of establishing national standards which in future all New Zealand farmers will need to meet.
How did you get to where you are now?
I started with Ravensdown in Christchurch as an Environmental Advisor. That role trained me to become a full consultant. Part of that training involved me getting the CNMA (certified nutrient management advisor) qualification. I am a consultant with Ravensdown now which is more independent in that I have my own projects and no longer work under a Senior Consultant. I was taken on as an advisor because I had an environmental science degree and experience on my dad’s farm. Ravensdown was looking to expand its advisor program at the same time so I applied for the job and got it.
Why did you choose to study environmental science?
I always intended to study environmental science. I didn’t specialise in agriculture but I’ve been passionate about nature, animals and biology since I was a child, and then my high school teachers furthered that passion and helped me solidify my degree choice. I can’t imagine studying anything else because I’m so interested in the environment. I was accepted by my first choice for study: the School of Environmental Science at McGill University in Montreal. Moving to New Zealand where agriculture is such a big part of the economy and because it has a big ecological footprint, only fuelled my passion. I know I’m working in a space where I can have the most impact.
How well were you supported when taking on your first role after university?
Ravensdown provides its staff with a lot of training. As an advisor I was really well supported and guided by its environmental team. They helped me learn how to model farms (using software to predict a farmer’s nutrient losses so they can meet their annual compliance targets) and I learned how to write farm environment plans (the living documents that highlight risks, minimise risks and set targets to achieve their environmental compliance).
Did your study give you the skills you need to do your current job?
My university study was a fantastic foundation even though it wasn’t specific to New Zealand’s farm systems. I’m always learning on the job too. I’d say Ravensdown is responsible for most of my training and upskilling.
How have your roles measured up against your expectations?
It’s far better than I imagined. Agricultural companies in New Zealand treat their staff really well. I get so many perks like health insurance and a company car which I’m allowed to use for personal travel too. I’m so happy to be in a role that has a real purpose. My friends with jobs in other sectors are blown away by how much satisfaction I get from my job. Farmers are the backbone of New Zealand and such great people to work with. I really enjoy spending time with them and supporting the environment at the same time. For me there’s no division between the two.
What would you say to someone thinking about a future in food & fibre?
There are heaps of opportunities for people in my role who want to work for a better New Zealand. And the demand will continue to go up as the government continues to push for policies that support of our environment. The quality of food is an increasing issue for the world’s 7 billion people so from where I’m standing, a future in a food & fibre sector looks bright.