Sarah Wilson joined BASF almost four years ago and readily admits that no two days are ever the same as there’s so much scope and variety in her Ag role.
In conjunction with National Agriculture Day 2021 and in line with this year’s theme of Choose your #AgVenture, we at BASF caught up with four of our Ag colleagues to shed some light on their experiences in this broad field. For part three, we speak with Sarah Wilson, who has been a Senior Technical Solutions Specialist with BASF Agricultural Solutions since April 2018.
Sometimes it only takes one question to help us make a life-changing decision. For Sarah Wilson, who was at that time enrolled in a chemistry-focused course, it was her mum asking her “But are you having fun…?” to help her realise that she wanted to switch to Ag Science, where her passion truly was. She also qualified her life-changing decision with a huge smile saying, “the Ag Science faculty also had the best parties!”
In the 20 years ago since graduating, Sarah has embarked on a variety of different roles that have taken her across Australia and given her a wealth of experiences. “I first started out with a national CRO (Contract Research Organisation), as a Research Project Biologist which allowed me to get a very broad view of farming whether it was working with animals, crops or cotton. I learnt a tremendous amount and got tonnes of experience in a very short time, and it provided a fantastic foundation for my Ag career.”
She then had an opportunity with a large agriculture company, starting off in R&D, where she cemented her love for cotton. Over 12 years, Sarah gained experience as a sales rep, technical advisor and also cotton trait R&D, which was a highlight of her time with that company as it allowed her to work on developing GM traits and varieties of cotton that were optimised for grower needs in Australia. What she particularly enjoyed about this role was the fact that she was involved in almost every aspect of the cotton trait projects, from the lab work, field trials, data analysis, technical reporting, regulatory compliance, documentation and much more. “I got to work with some very influential and smart people from around the world, and it felt like I was really making a difference in the industry and on a global scale!” she recalls.
In 2018, Sarah joined BASF Agricultural Solutions as a Senior Technical Services Specialist, which has so far been the perfect balance between office & field, technical and agronomic work for her. She shares, “In my current role, I act as a conduit between R&D, sales, and out to the marketplace, helping to explain scientific and technical topics to our customers, providing feasible solutions and troubleshooting any issues along the way. What’s really interesting is that there’s so much variety in my daily routine that no two days are ever the same.”
If Sarah starts her day in the office, you’d likely find her work on designing presentations and fliers, editing videos, running webinars, sifting through trial data for patterns or assisting development colleagues with submissions. If, however she started her day on the road, you’d find her in the field evaluating demonstration trials, on farms with growers and advisors trying to improve or resolve their farming challenges.
One thing that’s consistent though, is that her phone never stops ringing, “I could be anywhere in the country and within a matter of minutes I might receive a call from Western Australia about chia crops, before getting a call from western Queensland about plague locusts and then having a third call about the technicalities of GM canola in NSW. There’s a lot happening, but I enjoy the pace and dynamism of the role.”
Sarah especially enjoys the fact that her job with BASF allows her to travel to many varied and interesting locations across four states and also to learn about new things and developments in agriculture, “Just last year, I found out about a crop that I’d never heard of before; duboisia. It’s a family of shrubs and trees native to Australia that have leaves containing a number of alkaloids that can be used for treating motion sickness, stomach disorders and the side effects of cancer therapy.”
Perhaps, that’s what keeps her interested in the ag industry; there’s always new products, things to learn, global complexities and evolving market / consumer demands which in turn mean that there’s always room to continue her own professional and personal development. The potential of where technology in agriculture can take the industry is something that particularly interests her, as she’s still sometimes in awe over how far its developed just within her career in ag, observing that “20 years ago, no one would have thought it possible to monitor your water troughs or deploy a rig to spray your paddock through your mobile phone, and yet here we are today.”
She continues, “Amongst some there’s a misconception that you have to have grown up in the outback or on a farm to be want to pursue a career in ag. However, I’m a firm believer that you don’t have to be ‘born into it’ to be interested, pursue and succeed in ag as there are so many roles and career paths available. Studies show that we need a 70% increase in global food production by 2050, which is a massive step up, but one that I believe is possible with companies like BASF developing, testing and innovating ways to produce higher-yielding, more-resilient and better-quality farm produce. Is ag the world’s biggest job? I’m not sure, but it is certainly challenging and exciting time to be in this industry and I am so thankful that I made the decision to switch degrees all those years ago!”