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Where are they now? Sarah Gard

Kicking off a new series for Young Country we are taking a look back at some of the awesome young people we have profiled in pages of Young Country, Country-Wide and Dairy Exporter in the past and catching up with where they are now and how they have progressed in their careers. Starting off the series is Sarah Gard (Nee Bennett) who graced the cover of Country-Wide in April 2012 when she was an occasional homeblock contributor. She sent us this little update:

Last time I wrote a column was as a fourth-year university student, finishing my Honours project as part of my Bachelor of Agricultural Science – it seems like a lifetime ago now! Since leaving university at the end of 2012, I have relished becoming a part of New Zealand’s agricultural sector through a varied and interesting pathway.

I began graduate life in a Technical Field Officer role at Farmlands Cooperative, then CRT. I believe this is a great starting role for any agricultural graduate, as it gives you a broad understanding of farm systems and all their inputs, and is a great beginning for building relationships with all sorts of farming families. The relationships I held with my customers and their families is still my favourite thing about working in this industry – farmers are (generally!) such kind-hearted and welcoming people, and being invited into their family home for a cooked lunch while visiting to deliver some fenceposts or decide the next season’s seed requirements was always such a pleasure.

During my time at Farmlands, I found my passion really lay in the agronomy part of my role, so following a two-year stint as a TFO, I was excited to be offered a position in the seed industry, as a Research Agronomist for the Germinal brand with Genetic Technologies. As I have always enjoyed learning and academics, I loved the change out of sales and into research. I was charged with developing a whole new research programme for the Germinal products, which has been a very rewarding challenge.

The brand has undergone numerous changes in the last two and a half years, and I now work directly for Germinal New Zealand as the Technical Development Manager. This is a recent set up for the company, and is an exciting role that poses its own set of new challenges and a fair bit of ownership and responsibility.

Sarah Gard, Trials and Product Development Manager, Germinal New Zealand visits Brian Nicholsons farm in Johnstown, Co. Kilkenny to look at how aber grass varieties are performing in Ireland. Sarah will be incorporating these varieties on New Zealand farms.

Germinal Holdings is based in Northern Ireland, so a quick catch up with my boss generally takes place at 8 or 9 pm at night thanks to the time difference! I am lucky in working for a company based on the other side of the world, that my job allows me to travel to the United Kingdom and Ireland each year. It has been really interesting learning about farming systems over there – when visiting an Irish farmer, I don’t know who was more shocked at our differences, the farmer who milks 200 cows that live in a barn, or myself who comes from a farm milking 1400 cows.

My main focus in this role is the selection and breeding of new varieties in New Zealand. Our Germinal varieties have traditionally been bred at Aberystwyth University, in western Wales, and this is the first time any selections or breeding work has been done outside of the university. It has been a huge learning curve, and one I am really enjoying. Ryegrass breeding is a very long game, but it is exciting to know the scoring I am doing on individual plants now will one day contribute to a new variety being used on New Zealand farms.

Outside of my breeding and selection work, I also continue to run the general R & D programme for Germinal in New Zealand. This involves various plot trials, both at our research station in Christchurch and out on farm, among other things. I also have a lot of customer interaction, with merchants and farmers alike, as I am currently managing our New Zealand sales until our sales manager comes on board in the next few months.

I am heavily involved in the New Zealand Plant Breeding and Research Association (NZPBRA) and sit on several of its committees. Working alongside like-minded people from other seed companies to develop and promote a national forage research programme, as well as guiding industry improvements is interesting and exciting to be a part of.

There is huge variation in my role on a daily basis, and I really enjoy being able to manage my own time and responsibilities – if it is raining there is always office work to be done inside, but over the summer I am able to get outside and soak up the sunshine.

Rye the dog (aptly named after the grass!) is a great wee helper when harvesting plot trials

My husband Will and I were married in April this year. He is also a Lincoln graduate, who I started seeing in our second year at university – a classic Lincoln romance! Will is managing a dairy farm, and we are in the process of getting ready to begin contract milking. It has always been our intention to climb the dairy industry ladder as a means to get to farm ownership, and it is exciting to be soon reaching the next rung of the ladder.

New Zealand’s agricultural industry is so full of opportunities for anyone willing to take them on, and there are always doors opening for someone whose passion lies within this wonderful sector. I have many goals ahead of me, both within the company I work for, and in farming with my husband, and I know with a bit of hard work they will all be reached. In the meantime, I am enjoying the road on which we’re travelling and working within one of the country’s leading industries!