Erica van Reenen is passionate about both agriculture and
the environment. Photo supplied.
When Beef and Lamb New Zealand decided to create a new
environmental extension manager position, it was an ideal job
for Erica van Reenen.
The role combined two of Ms van Reenen's passions -
agriculture and the environment.
It was established earlier this year to support farmers
wanting to achieve environmental best practice on-farm, while
maintaining profitable businesses.
Ms van Reenen (29), who grew up in Wanaka, has had a
long-standing love of farming, which was coupled with an
equal passion for conservation and the environment.
After leaving secondary school, she headed to Massey
University to study veterinary science.
She had wanted to be a vet all her life and had never
considered any other option, she recalled during a recent
visit to Otago for a Trees on Farms workshop at Dunback.
But after just three weeks, she decided to change to a
science degree, in agricultural science, having come to the
realisation she did not want to be a vet.
She realised her passion was agriculture and, in hindsight,
she was very proud she made the decision to switch, saying
she was now doing what she really loved.
For both her masters degree - which was in merino wool
production - and undergraduate studies, she did as many
ecology and conservation papers as she could.
After completing her studies, Ms van Reenen was keen to get
into policy, working in an area where she could make a
difference for high country farmers.
At that time, Maf (now the Ministry for Primary Industries)
was doing a big recruitment drive and she secured a job
working in climate change.
She spent three and a-half years working on the emissions
trading scheme for agriculture.
''It was a fascinating first step into the real world. I
learnt pretty quickly how to deal with very angry farmers,''
It also gave her a ''massive insight'' into how the
Government worked. When she first started, there was a Labour
government and then National won the election.
It was a case of being ''very much thrown straight into it
headfirst'', dealing with industry stakeholders and
redesigning it, and switching from one minister,
Jim Anderton, to another, David Carter.
Climate change was a big issue and it was going to affect New
Zealand. There was an opportunity for the country to add
value to what it produced.
''I still firmly believe New Zealand needs to do its part for
climate change,'' she said.
Then came a ''cool opportunity'' to be involved with the new
rental system for Crown pastoral leases, and she achieved her
goal of being involved in high country policy.
Ms van Reenen then moved from Wellington to the Waikato and
moved into the sector performance team for six months,
working on a range of things including Sustainable Farming
Fund, and Primary Growth Partnership projects.
Then came a phone call from Beef and Lamb New Zealand, asking
if she would be interested in an extension manager's role.
By that stage, she had ''done the science thing and the
policy thing'' and she realised needed another step around
extension ''to actually get farmers to do something
different''. Doing something different could be doing the
same thing, but being informed about it, she said.
With a desire to work more closely with farmers, she leapt at
the opportunity and took on the role of extension manager for
mid-Northern in 2011.
She had previously worked with Beef and Lamb in Wellington,
but ''across the table''.
The extension managers were all encouraged to work on where
their skills were and that meant she could ''get in a few
more environmental things''.
But still, it was not quite enough - ''the environment thing
just wouldn't go away'' - and she was lucky that Beef and
Lamb decided to create a new environmental extension manager
While it was a national role, she was still working with the
same team, while specialising in the two areas that she
It has been a busy time for Ms van Reenen since she started
the role on March 1, setting up new programmes, getting land
and environment plans on track, supporting extension managers
and talking to as many stakeholders as possible.
Describing herself as quite an aspirational person, she
preferred to talk about ''best practice'' rather than ''good
practice'' as she would always rather be trying to do better.
While she did not think there was such a thing as the perfect
job - there was always some next step or move or opportunity
- it was the perfect job for her ''right now'', as she got to
work and help people in a sector she loved.
She completed the Kellogg Rural Leaders programme in 2012 and
a lot of what was driving her was the result of research she
did while on that course, on increasing environmental
practices on sheep and beef farms.
Ms van Reenen, who now lives with her partner on a sheep and
beef farm in Rangitikei, has been heavily involved in Young
It was an exciting organisation to be part of and she had
some ''pretty amazing'' opportunities because of her
While in Wellington, she was chairwoman of Wellington Young
Farmers and she came up with the idea of having an industry
Chairmen, chief executives and other key people involved in
industry bodies were invited, along with the chairmen of the
Young Farmers clubs in Manawatu, which was from Wanganui
south, and also Wairarapa, while all the Wellington club
members were also there.
David Carter, then Primary Industries Minister, attended and
it was exciting to have links form both ways.
''It opened several doors for most people that were
involved,'' she said.
When she moved to Hamilton, Ms van Reenen and Tim Van de
Molen, the current ANZ Young Farmer Contest champion, started
the Hamilton City Young Farmers Club.
That had gone from strength to strength and 50 people
attended a recent meeting, she said.
Ms van Reenen has also been involved in the Young Farmers
Contest. She convened the 2010 regional final, was on
committees for the next three, and then convened last year's
Waikato-Bay of Plenty regional final in Hamilton.
In this year's contest, it was her last week in Hamilton when
the district final was being held and she decided it would be
a good thing to do on her last weekend.
She got second which qualified her for the Waikato-Bay of
Plenty regional final.
She decided she ''might as well give it everything'' and
enlisted help from ''a whole bunch of people'' in the
community, which was a great way to meet new people and pick
up new skills. Mr Van de Molen also gave her a coaching
While she wanted to win the regional final, Ms van Reenen
said she was realistic about the competition she faced, and
she thought a top four placing would be ''pretty cool''.
She finished second to sheep and beef farmer Dwayne Cowin who
was competing in his fourth regional final.
Now she had ''the bug'', she was keen to have another crack
at the competition, although she would be representing a
In the weekends, Ms van Reenen enjoyed helping out on the
farm, which also gave her a good grounding.
Her partner was very passionate about the industry, his
family were all very good farmers and there were some
''fantastic'' conversations around the dinner table, she
With her new role, it was also ''pretty valuable'' to have