Sarah O'Connell says she did not choose agriculture as a
career - it chose her.
Ms O'Connell, now an extension officer for Beef and Lamb New
Zealand, was addressing a Get Ahead career experience day at
Totara Estate, just south of Oamaru, last week.
More than 130 pupils from John McGlashan College, Taieri
College, East Otago High, Otago Boys', Timaru Boys',
Craighead Diocesan, Mackenzie College, St Kevin's College,
Waitaki Girls' and Waitaki Boys' High School attended the
day, while just over 140 attended a similar day in Gore
earlier in the week.
New Zealand Young Farmers, Beef and Lamb New Zealand and
DairyNZ teamed up to inform secondary pupils of the range of
career possibilities within the primary industry. They have
run the days over the last three years.
There were 10 days held annually around the country, with
more than 1000 pupils hearing from successful industry
professionals and learning about different career pathways in
the primary sector.
The days highlighted both the on-farm and business-related
Ms O'Connell congratulated those attending, saying when she
was at school such days did not exist.
When she reached year 13 at secondary school, she did not
really know what she wanted to do and was preparing to go to
Teachers College, with the aim of becoming a physical
education teacher. But then ''the penny dropped'' that she
Ms O'Connell, who grew up on a small dairy farm at Dunsandel,
went to Lincoln University and completed a bachelor of
agriculture in commerce, with a double major in farm
management and rural valuation.
Two weeks into her tertiary studies and she knew her decision
was ''spot on''. Lincoln was an ''awesome'' place to study,
with small classes and lecturers who could be approached to
talk to one-on-one.
After graduating, she joined CRT (now Farmlands) in Leeston,
working for nearly a year in the retail store before she
decided she wanted more of a challenge. She joined the
National Bank (now ANZ) in a trainee rural manager role,
followed by a banking consultant role.
Then the opportunity arose to join Beef and Lamb New Zealand,
based in Christchurch, helping deliver all the extension
programmes that the organisation offered.
The work included running field days and workshops and
working on a regular basis with groups in the farming
community. Now, seven months into the job, she ''absolutely
The most enjoyable part about it was getting out and helping
farmers improve their businesses, she said. Her next step was
to move into an extension management position.
She encouraged the pupils attending the day to not be afraid
to give something a go and find out it was not what they
wanted to do.
Ms O'Connell, a member of Dunsandel Young Farmers, was third
in this year's Tasman regional final of the ANZ Young Farmer
Contest, and the top-scorer in the AGMARDT agri-business