Women in Agriculture: Alicia Pretorius - research associate in Trait Integration (maize), Corteva Agriscience

 Alicia Pretorius is a research associate in Trait Integration at Corteva Agriscience, a provider of best-in-class seeds, crop protection solutions, and digital services to farmers in Africa and the Middle East. A graduate of North-West University, Alicia holds a Master's degree in Entomology and Plant Pathology (Maize). She is dedicated to her career and has an interesting perspective on working in the agri industry.  We spoke with her about her experiences, advice and how to navigate and progress in your career as a woman in agricultural research.

What were your aspirations when you were younger?

I always wanted to be a veterinarian because I love animals, but after experiencing farm life, my love for plants grew, especially agriculture plants. My aspiration was always to become successful and be proud of whatever field I ended up in. Looking back, I am exactly where I was supposed to be. 

What got you interested in your field of research? 

I was born and raised on a farm in KZN, so agriculture has always been in my blood. I could not imagine living my passion in any other way. 

What kind of an education do you need to be in your role? What kind of education did you get? 

Minimum requirements would be a BSc degree in Agriculture. I have a MSc Environmental Science degree in Plant Pathology.  

Tell us about your role at Corteva Agriscience as Research Associate (Trait Integration)? 

I am responsible for delivering herbicide- and insect-tolerant maize products to South African farmers. This is a full time/ all year-round job with tight timelines requiring a great deal of dedication and commitment. To be successful, you need to have confidence in what you do and rely on your team and process.  

How does your work benefit the society? 

Since I am directly involved in the development of herbicide resistance mechanisms and insect control methods for maize hybrids, I contribute directly to food security as I ensure that farmers have a healthy and clean maize field, allowing them to maximize their production.  

As a newcomer to the industry, what were some of the skills and qualities you had to learn that helped you build the career you have now?

You must be fast-learner, passionate and committed, work hard and never give up! 

Who do you look up to and how do they help you in your career?

Fresh from university, I started my career in the industry with only book knowledge. I developed my career further with the support of my manager, who was American. As a result of our shared passion and aspirations, it was not difficult for me to adhere to the high standard set by our Trait Integration team to achieve the best results. 

Career in agriculture and science can be tough at times. What keeps you motivated to get going?

The mind is a powerful thing- you can achieve anything that you put your mind to! Failure is not an option; you stop when you are done. 

What do you see as some of the most exciting projects, innovations and/or initiatives in your career field in the next few years?

We are an agricultural technology company dedicated to helping farmers increase productivity, produce nutritious and healthy food, and drive sustainability on their farms. We are constantly launching new products that help reduce farm inefficiency. Technology plays a major role in our company, and we strive to use it where possible to increase productivity and improve output.  

What do you believe that the industry can do as a whole to promote greater inclusivity and to bring more women in leadership roles? 

Often when you hear about agriculture careers, you immediately associate them with a male-dominated environment, which is not the case. There are numerous opportunities for women to work in agriculture- we need to demonstrate that women can be valuable partners in the sector as much as men.

What do you want other women and young girls to know about being a woman in the research field?

Even if you work in agriculture, you can still express your femininity by wearing your earrings and make-up. The sector should not make you less of a woman! 

What would you recommend to other women thinking of entering the field? 

Research is a hands-on job, not a job where you sit in an office all day. For me, working in hot, humid greenhouses and sweating in the field all day, counting seed in freezing cold rooms, and then getting on a tractor to plant is where some of the magic happens. These responsibilities shouldn't be a barrier that keeps women from working in the sector.  

What are the job prospects for freshly graduated students in the Agri industry?

There are endless possibilities in HR, Finance, Marketing, Sales, Supply Chain, Field Science, and Research, and even more inside each of these sectors! 

How do you juggle work commitments and your personal life?

Sometimes this can be difficult because my head never shuts down as it is constantly thinking about every responsibility and activity and planning everything ahead. To have a fulfilling life, you need to make sure you switch off and spend time with your family and friends. You should commit to spending quality time with them just as much as you do to your job.

You can connect with Alicia via her Instagram.