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Emerging rural professional, Sarah Hawkins, wins top award

Environmental and dairy consultant, Sarah Hawkins, has been named as the Farmax/FarmIQ Emerging Rural Professional of the Year for 2023, the top contender in a field of highly talented and passionate nominees.

Sarah is a consultant at BakerAg, specialising in a number of areas, including environmental plans, financial analysis, farm system design and nutrient management. She brings her skills working with programs such as Overseer, FARMAX and mapping software to help farmers find solutions in whichever space they need assistance in.

Additionally, Sarah works on projects with Beef + Lamb New Zealand, Plant and Food Research, Our Land and Water, and Dairy Systems Monitoring, and she assists in BakerAg’s Integrated Farm Planning Workshops as an expert in soil and nutrient management, helping to interpret legislation and how it will affect farmers on the ground.

After completing a Bachelor of Agricultural Science from Lincoln University in 2017, Sarah spent over three years travelling and working overseas, largely in Western Australia on grain farms in the wheatbelt. Once she returned to New Zealand, it wasn’t long before she started at BakerAg, and her role has developed from dairy systems consultant to dairy and environmental consultant, due to increasing demand in the ever-growing environmental space.

Sarah’s win was announced during the New Zealand Institute of Primary Industry Management’s (NZIPIM) National Conference Awards Dinner in Christchurch on 21 August 2023.

The judges were highly impressed with the calibre of all the candidates for the Farmax/FarmIQ Emerging Rural Professional of the Year award, and found it difficult to separate the outstanding candidates.

In making their final decision, the judges noted Sarah’s broad knowledge of the food and fibre sector, deep insights into global and national issues impacting our primary industries and a well-developed understanding of her clients’ needs.

Sarah said winning the award was a very exciting surprise:

“I couldn’t be more excited and grateful about winning the award – it was definitely unexpected as the other finalists are all incredibly skilled rural professionals. Winning the award gives me confidence that I am growing and developing with the support of my employer, BakerAg, and that the direction I am moving in is one of value to our rural industries.

“Rural industries are facing unprecedented change and we all need to work together to continue having successful farming businesses.”

The Farmax/FarmIQ Emerging Rural Professional of the Year prize includes funds to put towards a research project, professional development courses or international research travel, and Sarah plans to use her award to conduct an overseas study tour looking at how other primary sector businesses are managing change and building resilience.

Farmax/FarmIQ COO, Gavin McEwen, says the number of entrants in the award was hugely positive for the industry, as it means there are more incredible young people fuelling New Zealand’s agricultural sector and more being recognised for their hard work as well.

“Every year it is great to see the high calibre of young professionals applying for the award – it’s reassuring to know that the future of New Zealand’s ag industry is in good hands.

“Congrats to Sarah – her empathy and passion for farmers is admirable, as is her focus on helping them deal with the myriad challenges and changes they face,” says Gavin.

Jo Finer, chief executive of NZIPIM, says, “once again, we’ve been thrilled to partner with Farmax/FarmIQ to recognise emerging talent in our sector and support their professional development.

“Sarah is an exceptional young woman and NZIPIM are thrilled we have rural professionals of such high calibre in the early stages of their career. Our profession really is in great hands for the future given the talent we have coming through.”

For the first time in the 10 years of the Emerging Rural Professional of the Year Award, the judges also highlighted one highly commended applicant, in addition to the winner: Rachel Durie, from Perrin Ag.

The judges were particularly impressed by Rachel’s view that to effectively support farmers into the future, rural professionals need to provide facilitative support rather than just technical expertise.