Background is no barrier.
DairyNZ Farm Systems Scientist Roshean Woods is gearing up to compete in this year’s FMG Young Farmer of the Year Grand Final in Christchurch. She is one of a handful of women to have competed in the grand final.
30-year-old Woods is the sole female competitor this year. It’s a lot of pressure, but something she’s trying not to focus on too much.
“My approach going into this is to do my best, which is all I can do really. I’ve competed many times at district competitions, but it's never been with the ambition to win, it's been for the learning experience”.
Unlike her fellow grand finalists, Woods doesn’t come from a farming background. Far from it, but she says that doesn’t run her at a disadvantage whatsoever.
Growing up, Woods always loved the sciences and coming up to her final year of high school, was trying to figure out what a future career could look like. A visit to her school from DairyNZ and a Student Liaison Officer from Lincoln University proved to be just the thing to help her figure that out.
“They came around to all my science classes and spoke about the opportunities in the agricultural industry. They spoke on the wide variety of people needed in the industry and when they said they need researchers my interest piqued.
“When I pictured my career I never really saw it being full time in a lab, I like being outdoors. Once I’d heard about the opportunities in the agricultural industry I could picture myself out in a paddock working with farmers in the science space. I probably didn’t really know fully what research was back then to be honest”.
As dux of her school, Woods had the pick of a few scholarships but ultimately decided that Lincoln University was where she was headed. A DairyNZ Scholarship sealed the deal and she started her pathway into agriculture.
“Once I started my degree I just loved it even more. I did summer placements and took every opportunity I could to get practical experience both on farm and in the research environment.”
At the end of her Bachelor of Science degree she went on to complete an Honours year focusing her research project on looking at greenhouse gas emissions from dairy shed effluent and what would happen if that effluent was applied to native plant areas.
From there she took up an internship opportunity with DairyNZ and AgResearch which saw her do placements at each, working in technical roles around the country.
“I got to work with a lot of scientists and it confirmed my desire to do what they were doing, everything from project planning to experimental design through to interpreting the results. It was an amazing chance to network as well”.
Deciding she wasn’t quite done with study, Woods eyed up a PhD. Through contacts she’d made during her internship she signed up to do her PhD within the forage for reduced nitrate leaching project. The collaborative multi-organisation project was a massive effort, and Woods’ three-year-long PhD ‘went by in a bit of a blur’.
While she was finishing up her PhD she met Charlotte Glass, founder of AgriMagic in Canterbury. She was looking for people to join her team and she’d spoken to Woods’ supervisor who’d mentioned her name.
“My role at AgriMagic gave me a chance to upskill my farm systems knowledge and work within an amazing team to support farmers to maintain resilient farm businesses as they respond to environmental challenges.
“I loved interacting with our farmers and it helped me build a lot of soft skills which I think set me up really well for when I made the move into my current job”.
Now, working as a Farm Systems Scientist, Woods is involved in a number of research projects including a farmlet study being conducted at the Southern Dairy Hub in Invercargill. The project is a farm systems comparison designed to better understand crop-based wintering in relation to consequences for environmental impact and profit.
“In other projects I’m involved with we are partnering with commercial farmers. I love the interaction with them and that constant feedback loop. As researchers, we don’t know everything, so having farmers involved and asking questions and questioning our assumptions helps keep us relevant”.
Over the coming weeks, Woods will be hard at work preparing for the grand final in July. Going into her regional final, she felt her biggest hurdle was going to be the practical elements, but her seven year tenure as a competitor at district level has left her with a good foundation to work from.
With some help and encouragement from her husband, she says she’s ready to tackle whatever is thrown her way, but will be putting in the hours of practice and study just to be sure.
“I’ve only ever entered the competition to gain experience and learn, now it’s the real deal. So while I am taking it seriously, my main focus is enjoying the whole experience.
Previous competitors I’ve spoken to have all said the same thing, to enjoy it, because it's over pretty quickly.
“I hope that through my urban background it will encourage others to have a go. I’ve learnt so much and I’m ready to tackle the grand final”.