Sarah Elliot grew up on a sheep and beef farm in Waitotara, South Taranaki, and likes to think she spent her younger years “working” on the farm with Dad. But admits that she was probably just being a general nuisance either way this is where her love of farming began.
A few years on, when considering university options Sarah was steered away from agriculture by her school career advisor and ended up enrolling into a Bachelor of Technology majoring in Product Development. But she kept her interests alive through summer jobs including tracking milk losses in the Whareroa Fonterra plant, manufacturing TechnoGrazing™ system hardware for Kiwitech and working on a large cattle station in Australia. She graduated with honours in 2005, but for Sarah the fun years and new friends were probably as influential in her life as her certificate.
At the completion of her degree Sarah accepted a role as a Product Development Engineer at Fisher and Paykel Healthcare and within two years was managing a team of engineers developing medical products sold worldwide. "I’m pleased I can say I have done my time in the big smoke (not so much the time spent in first gear on the motorway) and have experience on the other side of the farm gate. But it’s funny how if you have a strong enough passion for something that it will eventually draw you back."
After several years working in the UK as a mechanical design engineer, an opportunity came up to work with a team of guys who had just commercialised the world’s first true variable rate irrigation (VRI) system. This ticked all the boxes for Sarah - developing cutting-edge technologies to benefit the people, industry and environment that she loves. And now six years later she is still thoroughly enjoying working in irrigation mainly due to the great relationships that she has built with their farmers, in NZ and Australia, helping them to get maximum benefit from their VRI technology for their farm.
Sarah and her husband own and run Waikora Station, a Hill Country Merino Sheep Station in the Hakataramea Valley, South Canterbury. The 2333ha property is home to 5,500 superfine merino’s and 100 or so breeding cattle. Hamish does all the hard work on the farm and Sarah tries to ensure that they stay within budget each year, as well as making sure no one goes hungry at tailing. Sarah is also heavily involved in the strategic planning for their business, challenging any decision-making and making sure their goals reflect where they want to be in years to come.
Spurred on partially by the Kellogg Rural Leadership course and her pursuit to support their fantastic community where she can, Sarah was one of the instigators of the Hakataramea Sustainability Collective, a NZ Landcare Trust group that was set up this year. And also 'Growing the Top Paddock', which is a low-key initiative to try and get more educators and experts to the Waitaki area to fill the knowledge gaps and help upskill those taking on new farming challenges.
"One thing that is most important to me is family, and the challenges and changing landscape in New Zealand agriculture over recent years does make me consider what the future will hold. We have a farming mad two-year- old son and I hope that one day if he wishes to pursue a career in agriculture that the career advisor will be able to boast of the thriving opportunities available, but in the mean time I feel it is up to us to make sure that this will ring true!"
Sarah, we love your sentiments around promoting agriculture and the many many pathways it can take you. As you say it is amazing how we find that so many AgWomen have been drawn back to a career in the primary industries.