“It’s hugely satisfying and has exceeded my expectations of how rewarding a job can be.”
Name: Laura Keenan
Grew up: Gore, Southland
Lives: Feilding, Manawatu
Pathway: Bachelor of Agricultural Science
You grew up on a farm in Gore and now work as an agronomist in Feilding. Did you know what you wanted to be or even what an agronomist was?
I always knew I wanted to work with farmers and positively influence their businesses in some shape or form. I knew that an agronomist was an advisor of some sort but not much more than that. You don’t know what you don’t know!
How did you decide what and where to study?
So many people have helped me find my way. My three older siblings studied ahead of me at Lincoln University, where I studied too. The scholarships on offer were a big incentive, and I was lucky enough to receive a Lincoln University Future Leaders Scholarship, a Community Trust of Southland scholarship and a Jeff Farm Tertiary scholarship that covered my fees and living costs. My brother’s friend studied agricultural science so I had an idea of what that meant and where it could take me. I knew I needed to know the science first, before advising farmers on how to apply it. Studying in Christchurch was far enough away from home for me to spread my wings but close enough to go home when I needed too.
Were you well supported in your transition from study to work?
Leaving university and going out into the world to find a job can be overwhelming. I was fortunate through my network to have had mentors who helped me during that time. Having a structure in place to support graduates through the transition and making them aware that there are lots of different jobs available would help a lot of young people.
How did you find your current role?
Through my network. After graduating from Lincoln University with a Bachelor of Agricultural Science, I worked as an environmental consultant for three years with a soil consulting company - Soil Matters. My job was to help farmers comply with their environmental plans and nutrient budgets. Then someone from Agricom, my current employer, remembered me from a part-time holiday job I had at PGG Wrightson Seeds in Canterbury. They suggested I apply for my current role as an agronomist in the Waikato. I worked there for two years before transferring to Feilding with Agricom in the same role.
How well were you supported when taking on your current role?
I’ve had incredible support and professional development opportunities. They would always say ‘yes’ to any idea I had for training etc that not only helps me but the wider company. That’s hard to beat.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I have a huge amount of flexibility and diversity every day. It’s a very autonomous role which means I need to be very proactive. It’s all about people, communication and networking. I spend 80% of my time in the field with farmers: talking about their various farm systems, staff and animals. Even though science is what I’ve studied, my job is all about people – understanding them and their farm and then helping farmers choose the right seed, plant, grass or crop that’s right for their environment and business. I spend 20% of my time in the office: planning, professional development and administration. It’s the perfect mix for me.
What attracted you to working in the agricultural sector? What are your favourite things about it?
It’s face-paced with so many facets. There are so many avenues to take. Like me, most farmers are visual learners. Every day they’re dealing with very tangible things. I get to help them grow a variety of crops and they can see their progress within 100 days. It’s hugely satisfying and has exceeded my expectations of how rewarding a job can be. It’s a small sector, everyone knows everyone so it’s easy to develop a network quickly. There’s nothing better than listening to a farmer’s story, helping them make a plan, seeing them execute it, and watching them succeed and make a profit. That for me really is magic.
Did your study give you the skills you need to do your job?
I use a lot of what I studied in my job. There are always new things to learn on the job though – about soil, animals, plant science and farm management. I think university is great for teaching you how to learn and exposing you to people and knowledge in addition to secondary school.
What would you say to someone thinking about a future in food & fibre?
Keep your eyes open. If you are prepared to listen, learn, collaborate and adapt, there are endless opportunities to help the food & fibre sectors and New Zealand grow. Education never stops. There are chances to learn new things every day. I definitely plan to stay in agronomy and also have a long-term goal of farm ownership. The sector is bound to change, but so long as everyone keeps collaborating, innovating and finding smart solutions to solve problems, it’s the only place for me.