Primary industry careers: growing our future
Working in the primary industries, you can help feed the world, build a sustainable future or help find solutions to some of the world's most pressing problems – like biosecurity risks, animal welfare, and the effects of climate change.
AFFECTED BY COVID-19?
Careers in the food and fibre sector
If your job has been affected by COVID-19, check out your options in primary industries like the food and fibre sector.
Forestry offers broad job opportunities
Forestry is a fast-growing sector offering a broad range of career opportunities whether you're just setting out on your career, or looking for a career change with great potential.
Growing primary industry careers
The future of primary industries won't look the same as it has traditionally. Issues like biosecurity, climate change, and animal welfare will require us to find new ways to work. Growing populations, complex global trade, and a move toward sustainability will pose new challenges that the industries will have to respond to.
As primary industries grow to meet these challenges, the sector will need researchers, consultants, veterinarians, and people skilled in IT, engineering, robotics and other technological areas.
The sector will need to attract keen, innovative people from diverse backgrounds, including urban areas. They'll need qualifications across a range of subjects from science and technology, to economics, maths and engineering, right through to marketing and human relations.
Workers will need higher qualifications
While parts of the primary industries will continue to generate opportunities for people without formal qualifications, much of the growth will be in highly-skilled roles. That will drive demand for diplomas and certificates – particularly those that can be gained through in-work training.
- In 2012, an estimated 44% of employees in the primary industries had formal, post-school qualifications.
- By 2025, it's anticipated this will need to increase to 62% to meet these new demands.
What that means for you, is that a career in primary industries could take you on a varied and rewarding path with plenty of options to continue training and upskilling throughout your working life.
Primary industry champions
To help give you an idea about the kinds of jobs people do in the primary industries, we've interviewed a range of people about their work and what gets them up in the morning.
Video: Women in the primary sector (2:58)
[a montage of videos shows women working in different areas of primary industries, zooms in to one of them. Title shows: Lindy Nelson MNZM, Founder Executive-Director, Agri-Women’s Development Trust]
Lindy: From a global perspective we know what women bring to the bottom-line of businesses not only in the way they think, but in their financial, their critical thinking skills and their relationship skills. And agriculture is a business in a whole lot of other subsets of that.
[woman feeding calves]
Lindy: So whether that’s on-farm, whether that’s at industry level, we actually need 100% of our talent in order to face our future challenges.
[woman in front of Māori gateway with a title on screen: Traci Houpapa MNZM JP, Chair of the Federation of Māori Authorities and Landcorp New Zealand]
Traci: For me, primary industries is about the future of our nation.
[2 women and a man talking in front of a crop]
Traci: Interestingly, I had a conversation last year with a niece – Casey – who was rolling along and then decided she wanted to become a farmer. And the reason that she wanted to get into farming was because she wanted to feed the world.
[woman talking in front of fishing gear. Title shows: Helen Mussely, General Manager Science – Seafood Technologies, Plant & Food Research]
Helen: I’ve always like working with industry and being able to see the results of what we do feed into what they do – and make things better for their companies.
[workers pull in mussel lines on a boat]
[woman in front of forested hills. Title shows: Jessica Brown, Margules Groome Consulting]
Jessica: I got into forestry probably through my dad. You know, my dad had been doing this for 40 years and he still loved it – and he was doing so many different things. And I thought, that’s what I want to do. I want to have a job where you can change what direction you’re going in on a regular basis if you want to or over time you can vary it.
[woman talking. Title shows: Lucy Griffiths, Marketing Consultant and Owner of Innov8 Aotearoa]
Lucy: From age 30 I've had my own business, and I've had the flexibility to have an equilibrium in terms of health and wellbeing.
[walks beside bee hives]
Lucy: Doing my community interest, my job promoting New Zealand cuisine, and then sitting on various different boards.
[sits at meeting table]
[young woman speaking. Title shows: Hannah Wallace, 2015 Ahuwhenua Young Māori Farmer of the Year]
Hannah: I just love being out in the open air and you know getting to work with your dogs and muster and, you know, just working with the animals it’s probably one of the best things I suppose. Yeah.
[musters sheep with dogs on a quad bike]
[woman talking on a farm and working with horses. Title shows: Sonia Waddell, Co-owner of Riverdale Farm and premier athlete]
Sonia: I can’t think of anything I would rather be doing. I’m out in the fresh air, I have the opportunity to stay fit and active without the regimented training programme that I’ve done for the last 25 years of my life. I get to work with animals. I have autonomy. Farming is very creative now compared to perhaps how we might have perceived it in the past.
[woman talking in front of cattle and feed bales. Title: Erica van Reenen, Environmental and Agricultural Consultant AgFirst Manawatu-Whanganui]
Erica: We need, in this sector, talented people across the whole spectrum and there’s huge opportunities for pretty much any career – any focus that you have – to be able to work in the primary sector. My advice is to keep your options open.
[drives up to farm then talks with farmers as they walk next to crop and cattle]
Follow what you’re passionate about. Make sure that you’re not following the easy route necessarily, but think about what works for you, what drives you, and what value you can add to the industry. And talk to people that can help you, because there are a huge number of people out there who work in and love this industry that would be more than happy to help young people get to where they need to be.
[End of transcript]
Video: Overview – growing our future (3:21)
[Upbeat music plays whilst different scenes of people working in the primary sector are shown – packers on a farm, a woman in a laboratory, a man in a factory busy filleting fish and another man standing on a farm holding open a gate to herd in cows whilst a black utility vehicle (ute) with farm dogs on the back arrives on a paddock with sheep running in the opposite direction. Three metal spiral-shaped mixers attached to a metal bar are mixing fertiliser inside a building, a woman with protective glasses and yellow hard hat is holding a cutter and standing on yellow platform of a moving vehicle that moves through an avocado orchard.
[To help give you an idea about the kinds of jobs people do in the primary industries, we've interviewed a range of people about their work and what gets them up in the morning.]
Craige Mackenzie: Well actually, some of the very best farmers in the world are right here. It’s not something that we always celebrate, but it’s certainly something that we should be more proud of.
Rangitane Marsden: The future is actually in the younger generation.
Hannah Wallace: There’s a lot of opportunities out there for people, they just need to grab them.
Ian Proudfoot: Any job you want to do, you can do in the primary sector in New Zealand.
Erica van Reenan: There’s huge opportunities for pretty much any career.
Emily Tasker: It’s this perception that agriculture is just farming, and it’s not. You get to start businesses, it’s got so much potential to use all these new technologies. It’s really cool.
Shay Wright: It’s more than just the business. It's actually about how do we create better opportunities for communities, as well as better opportunities for our environment.
Gabi Michael: For me that’s sustainability. I’m building something that’s not all about returns.
Sonia Waddell: We are caretakers of the land, and that’s something that both Rob and I are really passionate about.
Sir Peter Gluckman: The world needs food, the world needs better food, the world needs healthier food, produced in an environmentally sustainable way.
Dr Cather Simpson: We really need to take advantage of the fact that we have not just really strong primary industries here, but we have absolutely fantastic high-tech, innovative researchers.
Dr William Rolleston: What’s going on with precision agriculture, with the use of robotics and drones and all the technology around big data, that’s really exciting stuff.
Traci Houpapa: That uplift in performance, productivity and profitability is going to come from our research, and technology is going to come from innovation.
Dave Maslen: We can innovate and change very, very rapidly, far more rapidly than a lot of our other, competing countries can.
John Wilson: The world’s quickly moving to fresh dairy solutions, far more innovation required, traceability what we call trust in source.
Volker Kuntzsch: What I feel very passionate about is, with my scientific background, to be able to make a difference in this industry and create a great name for New Zealand.
Dr Mark Harris: I’m trying to make farming life better, and I want to be able to look back and say, "Hey, we did those things, and that was pretty worthwhile".
Aaron Gunn: We’re not looking at what we’re harvesting just next year, we’re looking at what we’re harvesting 50 years into the future.
Lindy Nelson: So if you want something dynamic and exciting, and challenging and growing, something that adds real value, providing food and product for people, I say pick agriculture.
Sir David Fagan: There’s never, ever going to be too much food in the world. So there’ll be ups and downs, but long term, farming is a really great place to be in.
Caleb Dennis: You never quite know exactly what the next day is going to bring. You continue learning and growing, and what you’re doing is making a difference.
Holly Tonkin: Finding your work purpose once you find it you know. I just love my job.
Matt Bell: I know I have found what I want to do because I probably would do it for free "maybe not quite, but pretty close".
[Music: Alive by Graeme James]
[End of Transcript]
Video: Science and technology (3:22)
Professor Sir Peter Gluckman, Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor: The primary industry has got the greatest growth potential perhaps of any of our industries if we use science properly. We’ve just got to get over the mindset that agriculture is low technology. It’s in fact very high technology, although I think we’re only a small part up the ladder.
Professor Cather Simpson, The University of Auckland: We really need to take advantage of the fact that we have not just got really strong primary industries here, but we have absolutely fantastic high-tech innovative researchers.
Dr Mark Ferguson, Production Science Manager, NZ Merino: We don’t get stuck in what is traditionally done. We think about how we can – we look at a production system and think about how we can tweak that to have a more valuable product coming from New Zealand.
Helen Mussely, General Manager, Plant & Food Research: For me, the way our science gets used is the really important thing. That it goes to help industry to do things better, to make their industry more sustainable in the long run, both economically, but obviously environmentally as well.
Craige Mackenzie, Farmer and CEO/Director, AgriOptics New Zealand: We start with things like autosteer on the tractor, and once you have it on one, you’ve got to have it on all of them. So, you turn at the end, hit the button and it automatically drives to the far end. But that allows us to spatially apply different products and fertilisers in different areas to match exactly what the crop needs. The returns are huge. The opportunities to even the crops up – it just means that we can really drive productivity without actually necessarily using as much fertiliser.
Ellen Ashmore, Food Chemistry Scientist, ESR: There is much more need to collaborate with those producers overseas and the importers and exporters. And that brings together scientists from all over the world, but also from the different disciplines of science.
Associate Professor Māui Hudson, University of Waikato: Certainly within the Māori space, when thinking about Mātauranga Māori all of it has been informed by an evidence base. Just like there is no end point to science, it’s something that’s constantly evolving and we’re developing our understanding and deepening our knowledge. We do the same thing both with mātauranga and also the relationship between the two and how we can use them.
Traci Houpapa, Chair of the Federation of Māori Authorities and Landcorp New Zealand: Uplift and performance, productivity and profitability is going to come from research and technology, is going to come from innovation.
Dr Mark Harris, Global Marketing Manager, Gallagher: Innovation has become part of our culture. So everyone who works here knows that what we do is we redefine the future. We try and improve the lives of our customers, you know, so we’re constantly trying to change the way farmers use our technology.
Aaron Gunn, Technical and Resource Manager, Port Blakely NZ: There’s so much more complexity to the forestry sector. It’s not just a person on chainsaw or cutting a tree down. Our field operations are changing so much. We’ve got robotics coming in. We’ve got UAVs. We’ve got laser technologies that we use from the sky. It’s a constantly changing world and it’s just so fascinating.
Lucy Griffiths, Marketing Consultant and Owner of Innov8 Aotearoa: You can be working with you know the Callaghan Institutes and the Riddetts and be creating products that are high value and branding those – and then carrying them to the world with our New Zealand imagery.
Ian Proudfoot, Global Head of Agribusiness, KPMG: We’ve got this challenge – we’re not local, but we can use technology to make ourselves local and that’s a huge opportunity for us to reposition where we sit in the supply chain.
Dr Ian Ferguson, Departmental Science Advisor, MPI: There’s a lot of areas where science is used now. And I think what I would want to see – and hope that young people want to see – is that this is somewhere they can develop a passion.
[End of Transcript]
Our YouTube channel has videos from all our champions:
Helen Mussely talks about her work as General Manager Science – Seafood Technologies at Plant & Food Research. She also discusses the role applied science can play in helping industry to become more economically and environmentally sustainable.
Chris Wenden discusses the opportunities he’s been given in his role as Trainee Team Leader at Juken New Zealand.
Traci Houpapa discusses her role as Chair of both the Federation of Māori Authorities and Landcorp New Zealand. She shares her thoughts on some of the exciting new opportunities within the primary industries and how the sector is changing.
Tom Searle talks about the job opportunities available in seafood production and some of the things he likes most about being the Operations Manager at Leigh Fisheries.
Shay Wright discusses the education enterprise Te Whare Hukahuka that he and Travis O'Keefe co-founded in conjunction with The Icehouse business hub. He talks about how entrepreneurship, innovation, education and indigenous knowledge can strengthen New Zealand’s primary industries.
Sonia and Rob Waddell
Sonia and Rob Waddell discuss working with thoroughbred horses as co-owners of Riverdale Farm. Learn about their commitment to sustainability and the range of opportunities available in the primary industries.
Emily Tasker, Chief Executive of Flatpak discusses how she started her own company, opportunities she's found in primary industries and gives advice for other young entrepreneurs.
Dave Maslen discusses his role as Global Partnerships Manager for NZ Merino and what it takes for New Zealand’s primary industries to compete in international markets.
Greig and Rachel Alexander
Greig and Rachel Alexander talk about some of the opportunities available in farming. Rachel and Greig are the Northland Supreme Winners for the 2015 Northland Ballance Farm Environment Awards.
Gabi Michael talks about the challenges of growing barley in Canterbury and building Gladfield Malt.
Holly Tonkin, owner of an avocado contracting business in Northland, talks about why she likes her career.
Professor Philip Hulme of Lincoln University and the Bio-Protection Research Centre discusses the importance of finding solutions to protect New Zealand's biodiversity and our primary industries from invasive pests.
Caleb Dennis talks about what he does in his role as Group Technical Officer at Craggy Range Winery. Caleb was Young Horticulturist and Young Viticulturist of the Year 2015.
Food Chemistry Scientist Ellen Ashmore of the Institute of Environmental Science and Research talks about the science behind food safety and research she’s involved in that supports New Zealand’s primary industries.
The FoodBowl Chief Executive Alexandra Allan talks about encouraging an innovation culture in New Zealand food and beverage companies.
AgriOptics chief executive and arable farmer Craige Mackenzie talks about precision agriculture and how innovation is shaping New Zealand’s primary industries.
Hannah Wallace and Jeremy Bright
In 2015, Hannah Wallace became the first woman to win the Ahuwhenua Young Māori Sheep and Beef Farmer of the Year. She and her partner Jeremy are sheep and beef farmers in Hawke's Bay.
Associate Professor Cather Simpson of the University of Auckland and Director of the Photon Factory talks about the importance of connecting the primary industries with cutting-edge innovation and research.
Matthew Bell and Samantha Porter
Young Farmer of the Year (2015) Matthew Bell and his partner Samantha Porter talk about opportunities in the primary industries.
Erica van Reenen
Consultant Erica van Reenen talks about her work connecting agricultural and environmental outcomes for the industry and government.
Growing our future together
University of Canterbury PhD student Katie Collins, Professor Jon Harding and arable farmer Graeme Harris talk about important research work being carried out as part of the Canterbury Waterway Rehabilitation Experiment (CAREX).
Find out more
- Working for MPI and job vacancies
- MPI's Graduate Development Programme
- Food and fibre sector careers – GrowingNZ
- Types of jobs in the primary industries – Careers New Zealand