By Jeanne du Plessis
Agriculture is one of the largest and oldest industries in the world. The economic crisis has adversely affected many industries worldwide, but the agricultural industry has remained relatively stable.
Chrisjan Van der Vyver is a genetic breeding consultant at Taurus, in Irene, and has been working in this industry for 20 years. “People have to eat. The food industry can never come to a standstill, so in this field you can enjoy more job stability and career opportunities,” he says.
All in a day’s work
After several years of study, Chrisjan started out as a sales representative for genetic breeding products and worked his way up to management. He’s mainly involved in beef and dairy livestock, and sells products, such as bull semen and embryos, directly to farmers. These products are frozen in liquid nitrogen and transported to farms, and consultants provide everything the farmer needs for the genetic process, as well as the relevant training.
Over the past few decades, there have been numerous scientific advances in the industry of animal genetics, with significant progress in genetic modification and even cloning. “There are billions of people in the world and they all need to eat, so genetic breeding is a huge industry. Geneticists aim to provide as much protein as possible and can, for example, engineer cows that eat less and produce more milk, or cows that have more meat and less fat,” Chrisjan says.
Fact or fiction?
Although genetic engineering and cloning have become fact, rather than science-fiction, there’s still considerable resistance in the market, as many people fear these processes, so natural products are also sold. There are genetic fanatics in the field as well. “Some people are obsessed with genetics, and know the bloodlines of certain bulls as far back as 15 generations.”
As agricultural activities take place all around South Africa, employment opportunities are numerous, and consultants can work at agricultural companies or farms countrywide. To work in the field of genetic breeding, you should be an
extrovert and enjoy working with both people and animals.
Hitting the books
This is a specialised field, so several years of study are needed, and you have to be scientifically-minded and hard-working. You can begin by studying a BSc Agriculture, specialising in Animal Science, a course that is offered at several universities, including the University of Pretoria, the University of the Free State, Stellenbosch University and the University of KwaZulu-Natal. There are also several agricultural colleges to choose from.
On the road
Workdays are very busy and travel is frequent. Consultants can drive up to 8 000km per month and visit as many as eight farms per day. Chrisjan enjoys the variety this brings: “There’s a nice balance between working with people and animals, and between working in an office and being on the road, and outdoors, while visiting farms. It’s very rewarding to see improvement in production animals, and to see the superior, healthy animals that are the result of our products.”
At times, however, the travelling can get tedious, and the farm environment isn’t always pleasant, as there are many political issues which affect farming. The land claims in neighbouring Zimbabwe have made many South African farmers nervous, and farm attacks have become increasingly common. Due to these factors, farms are no longer the idyllic places they used to be, and sometimes the environment can be quite negative.
There are, however, also entertaining moments. Chrisjan relates that once some liquid nitrogen leaked from the container one of the sales reps was holding. “As it was raining that day, she was already standing in a puddle of water, and because liquid nitrogen is the coldest thing on earth, it froze the puddle she was standing in, so her shoes were in a block of ice.”
In conclusion, Chrisjan advises the youth of today: “It’s important to study in a direction you’re passionate about, and that will provide job opportunities. If you’re not sure what to study, start with a BCom (Marketing), as most jobs involve a certain amount of selling, even if this isn’t your area of expertise.”
Published By: Liezl Maclean