Agri-careers promoted

Catching up in Dunedin recently were (from left) Hayley Jenkins-McCaw, Andrew Ritchie (ASB), Prof Jacqueline Rowarth (Waikato University), Grace Johnstone (AbacusBio), Sarah Perriam (Rural TV) and Get Ahead project leader Rosie Todhunter. Photo by Craig Baxter.
Catching up in Dunedin recently were (from left) Hayley Jenkins-McCaw, Andrew Ritchie (ASB), Prof Jacqueline Rowarth (Waikato University), Grace Johnstone (AbacusBio), Sarah Perriam (Rural TV) and Get Ahead project leader Rosie Todhunter. Photo by Craig Baxter.
Agriculture is ''far more than milking cows and drafting sheep''.

That was the message from Jacqueline Rowarth, professor of agribusiness at Waikato University, to a group of Dunedin secondary school pupils last week.

''It's everything that New Zealand does because New Zealand business is agribusiness ... Our whole lifestyle is from what we export,'' she said.

Pupils interested in a career pathway in agriculture were invited to hear from Prof Rowarth, along with four former Dunedin secondary school pupils who now work in the rural sector.

Prof Rowarth, who was also guest speaker at last week's launch of the Otago Rural Business Network in Dunedin, gave an impassioned address, encouraging the pupils to consider a career in the sector.

She urged them to think about what the world needed; a vast number of people wanted high-quality food and that was food that New Zealand could produce. New Zealand was the most environmentally efficient food producer in the world.

Prof Rowarth spoke of the considerably higher salaries for agri-graduates and the small number of those graduates.

''If you know about food production or agribusiness, you can pick your job,'' she said.

Whether it was an interest in design, civil engineering, marketing or animal breeding, various career options were available.

The money was good and the rewards were there. Her students and classmates were ''everywhere'' making a difference all over the world, she said.

ASB rural manager Andrew Ritchie, who grew up on a sheep and beef farm in Otago, started to develop a passion for agriculture after spending two years in Scotland as a young boy.

Seeing animals housed indoors, he reckoned that ''didn't seem right'' and, when he returned to New Zealand and saw them ''running around'', that sparked the interest.

After leaving Otago Boys' High School, he headed to Lincoln University for a commerce degree with a plan to become a rural accountant.

But the plan changed when he headed overseas for four years. On his return, he got into rural banking and he has now been a rural manager for 18 months, with a portfolio of clients around the region.

The most rewarding part of being involved in rural finance was being part of the ''big decisions'' that farming families made, he said.

Mr Ritchie encouraged the pupils to be proactive and not sit back and, in 10 years' time, wish they had looked at a career in agriculture.

The streets of Auckland and Wellington were 'littered'' with people who had arts degrees but were ''pouring coffee for a living'', he said.

Hayley Jenkins-McCaw, who is on ASB's Future Me graduate programme, grew up on a farm near Kurow and boarded at Columba College.

Although she did not want to be a farmer, she loved farming and was keen on business, so she completed a BCom Ag, with a major in rural valuation, at Lincoln.

She was now one-third of her way through the two-year programme. While based in Otago at the moment, there was an opportunity to move throughout the country, even worldwide, through rural banking, she said.

Former Columba College head prefect Grace Johnstone graduated from the University of Otago in 2011 with a double bachelor's degree in science, majoring in genetics, and law.

Brought up on a sheep and beef farm near Outram, she never really considered a career in the primary industries when she was at school, having not really thought of what was available beyond the farm gate.

She was now working as a science consultant for AbacusBio, a Dunedin-based company that works throughout the supply chain, providing science and business consulting both in New Zealand and overseas.

While she was not sure what path her career would take in the future, Ms Johnstone said there were ''a lot of opportunities out there''. One option was within agribusiness innovation in a management role.

Former St Hilda's Collegiate School pupil Sarah Perriam said she created her job as executive producer for Rural TV because she wanted to be in a business in an industry that was ''going places''.

As a farm girl, it was the ''coolest industry to be in'', she said.

A Get Ahead careers day, focusing on promoting career opportunities in the primary industry, will be held in Dunedin next year.