What part(s) of the industry do you work in? I work in Crop Protection and Vegetable seeds.
Job title Territory Sales Manager, Syngenta.
What does your company/ business do? Syngenta is the World’s leading Crop Protection and Seeds company. They’re Swiss-based company but have research facilities and about 25000 employees around the world.
Locally, there’s about 160 of us in Australia and New Zealand in roles ranging from Sales and Marketing, Supply and Finance, as well Field Development.
We supply Crop Protection inputs into Horticultural, Broadacre, Summer Crop and Cane markets, as well as hybrid vegetable seeds.
Describe your job on the average day My average would typically see me leave home in Brisbane and drive out to one of the key growing areas of my territory, for example the Lockyer Valley, Granite Belt or Clarence Valley.
We work closely with a network of distribution partners, e.g. Landmark and CRT, who in turn help sell our products and put us in touch with the growers to help provide solutions to their needs.
Calling into a branch might mean sitting down with the manager to review sales figures or plan activities, or jumping into the ute with an agro and visiting their key growers.
We also work closely with key growers, particularly on Seed to trial new varieties that are being developed. We also help to identify problems that we might be able to provide solutions for, either with a product of our own, or even someone elses.
That’s a rough idea, really anything from spraying Crop Protection trials, planting seed variety trails, assessing trials, speaking at grower meetings, working at stand at trade shows, business planning and, unfortunately, there’s always a bit of administration to get out of the road!
How did you get involved with agriculture? I grew up on a small farm in Bingara in Northern NSW. Both my parents worked full time, but we had about 500 acres to muck around on and ran a few old cows. We always had horses and did pony club, and had chooks and the odd pet lamb – the usual.
I went to boarding school in QLD and made friends with some kids from bigger properties out near Moree and Goondi, and somehow became fixated on becoming a cotton agronomist, which then lead me to study Ag Science at Uni.
Secondary: The Scots PGC College, WARWICK
University: B. Agricultural Science (Rural Technology), UQ Gatton. (Australia’s premier Agricultural University!)
If you studied/ trained in agriculture, why did you choose that degree/ certificate? I didn’t actually. I started out doing a three year B. Applied Science (Agronomy) but a few of the friends I had made were doing the four year Ag Sci degree, and two others were thinking of up-grading. It was almost the end of our first semester and Uni life was looking pretty good so I applied to upgrade as well. Because I was the only one who got good enough grades in yr 12 I was the only one to move up that semester. (The others joined the following year).
There was a bit more to it though. The course I started was just focused on agronomy, whereas the course I changed to included more chemistry and animal studies subjects, as well as some basic agribusiness subjects.
In hind-sight, there probably wasn’t much point to it. Obviously, it set me on the path to where I am now, which I’m quite grateful for and I had fun, but in truth, a lot of it was just filler and now I have a bigger HECS debt!
What are/were you plans after school/TAFE/university? I was always going to be a cotton agro from about the age of 16, even though I wasn’t entirely sure what they did.
By my fourth and last year of uni I had completed two summers ”bug checking” on the Darling Downs and had decided that I definitely was not going to become a cotton agronomist!
Aside from not particularly enjoying it, the writing was beginning to appear on the wall. Ingard cotton had just been phased out and Bollgard was starting to hit its straps so the game was changing. RR was also growing in adoption. Further to that it was drought and the acerage was shrinking by the year. It just seemed that there was going to be less of a requirement for cotton agros.
I think there would have been 8-10 of us in my year alone with the same aspirations in first year. Only one actually went on to it after graduation, and they only lasted a year or two.
When I actually did graduate, I really wasn’t sure what I’d do, and it probably took me a couple of years to really figure it out.
Syngenta is the only company I’ve worked for as a professional. I started six years ago when I took a role in Customer Service in their Head Office in Sydney. After ten long months I got an opportunity to move into a TSM (territory sales manager) role based in Sydney and servicing the Sydney metro, Hunter Valley, Central Tablelands and Southern Highlands areas.
I’ve now been doing the same role in Southern Queensland and the NSW Northern Rivers for a shade over two years now.
Prior to that, a litany of rural/uni jobs to motivate me to try harder and aim higher – farm hand, cotton scout, vegetable picker, cotton irrigator, module builder…
What are your interests? They’re varied. Agriculture, obviously. Working with the value chain and in particular growers to improve their productivity and profitability, whether through better practices, better agronomy and crop protection management, or improved varieties.
Outside of work, I’m a massive QLD Reds and Wallabies (Rugby) fan, sport in general really. I also love to cook, or more to the point, eat (my housemate and I recently converted a filing cabinet into a American BBQ-style rib smoker)!
I used to blog, and once a quarter write a few hundred word for my friend’s rural lifestyle magazine. Occasionally I paint, and I have recently tapped into wood working. I’m also trying to buy my first house, so that’s pretty time consuming!
What is your favourite thing about the industry? The people. Well most of them. Especially with a territory with so many crops there quite a contrast in personalities, even cultures. Especially around the Sydney area.
It’s good to know that we’re contributing to the lives and health and well-being of so many, both in terms of our customers, as well as the end consumers. Every body has to eat!
Despite clocking up some ridiculous kilometers some weeks, I really love just being out and about, and driving around the country-side, which, again, is quite varied across my territory.
While occasionally time in the office is welcomed, I’d much prefer to be outside, in the field.
Best experience in agriculture? Though I’m probably not cut out to be a true scientist, I really enjoy the innovation and working with our Development team and Vegetable breeders to learn, and help develop new opportunities. It’s hard to really identify one particular thing, I guess. We do get to go to some nice places and see some cool stuff from time to time.
Working for a company that’s really at the top of it’s game and on the cutting edge of research and development, I (and a lot of my colleagues) get a kick out of knowing what we’re doing to improve global agriculture and the quality of life for so many, and how we’re doing it!
Worst experience in agriculture? Cutting silverbeet during winter in Uni at Gatton in waist-high stinging nettles. Not cool.
What do you think will be the biggest challenges of the agricultural industry in the future? From a careers perspective, image perhaps, on several fronts. Not necessarily that it has a bad image, but no image. Fundamentally we just need to raise the profile of agriculture at a career, so this is a great initiative!
Certainly rewards and salaries are something I struggle with from time to time. There’s no argument that there careers or industries out there that are robbing a potential agriculture career force with wads of cash. Especially the resource industry.
At a field level, particularly in vegetable production, the dominance of the two major chains is a great concern and well as some imports.
Why do you think less people are becoming involved in agriculture? As above. There’s a very limited profile for the opportunities available in agriculture, and it definitely is not the most lucrative career, in terms of money.
Where people want to live is obviously another factor. There’s plenty of kids who grow up in the country and move to the city, never to return, and there’s a lot of job diversity in the city so some people never have to leave.
Taking a job in agriculture inevitably means relocating.
In some instances there are also less jobs in those country towns or on those farms, due to changes in technology and efficiency.
What advice do you have for people thinking about getting into agriculture? I don’t know if I do. I guess it’s all I’ve ever really known, so have never had to look from the outside in.
Its just something I’m passionate about and enjoy – if you are too, give it a shot. There ARE loads of opportunities to get involved, and you don’t have to look that hard.
How important do you think an agricultural background is to become involved in the industry? They obviously help. It’s a pretty small industry and incredibly incestuous, so having a background and a few contacts can help a lot, and certainly helps right through your career. Having said that though, generally, as long as you have some common sense, some integrity and honesty, and are willing to have a go, you should manage OK.
What do you think is the most common misconception about agriculture? Agriculture is farming. Just farming. And it’s simple; seeds go in, crops come out.
Of course, agriculture revolves around farming, but there are thousands of jobs and opportunities that help service farming, from banking to crop protection, HR to robotics.
The amount of innovation and technology in agriculture still baffles me. It’s often thought of as simple and basic, but most farms are light years ahead of the majority of other small, or large, businesses in terms of technology and adoption. And it all costs money.
How we change those misconceptions and lift the profile of agriculture, and importantly get the community and consumers to see value in the produce and commodities that Australian agriculture is producing, well, I’m looking forward to see what you come up with!