The New Zealand arm of an international seed company is now led by two young Canterbury women, challenging the status quo of their traditionally male-dominated industry.
Germinal, an agricultural seed company based in Ireland and the United Kingdom, has supplied the New Zealand market with clovers and grasses for the past 15 years.
Since last year the company’s New Zealand team has been led by General Manager Sarah Gard (28).
Sarah holds a Bachelor of Agricultural Science from Lincoln University, with Honours in Plant Science. She started working for Germinal in 2014 to establish the company’s New Zealand research programme and was soon promoted to Trials and Product Development Manager. She took over the role of General Manager in June 2018.
Sarah also manages two North Canterbury dairy farms with her husband Will and sits on several committees for the New Zealand Plant Breeding and Research Association.
The company recently appointed 28-year-old Kate Peddie as Research Agronomist, a new position reinforcing the company’s focus on research and development.
Kate will help Sarah coordinate Germinal’s national plant breeding programme, managing its dedicated research site in Canterbury and several on-farm plot trials. She’ll draw on practical pastoral experience gained from working on large high–country properties and stock finishing operations in North Otago and Manawatu.
Kate graduated from Massey University in 2018 with a Bachelor of Agricultural Science. She now lives in Ohoka, North Canterbury.
Sarah and Kate’s practical rural backgrounds mean they understand the needs of farmers.
“It’s important that Germinal’s seed technology and research translates into tangible results on-farm,” says Sarah.
“Ultimately, pasture quality can play a significant role in improving animal output and long–term farm productivity.”
The pair are currently developing a new breeding programme to ensure Germinal’s products are perfectly suited to New Zealand’s unique conditions. Initial breeding development figures – or genetic gains – indicate that Germinal is achieving improvements of up to 2% per year for specific traits, compared to the industry average of 0.76%.
Purpose-bred grasses and clovers are improving animal performance and leading to significant economic benefits for farmers, says Sarah.
“We are developing new varieties with important agronomic characteristics such as high yield, persistence and tolerance to environmental extremes. This work is unprecedented, as it’s the first time any genetic material has been taken outside of Germinal’s research and development partner, the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) in Wales.”
IBERS is a world-renowned centre of excellence in plant breeding.
“Using IBERS material we are selecting for the traits we want in a New Zealand environment, such as increasing the early spring growth in our perennial ryegrass,” says Sarah.
Germinal’s research has already been recognised in the United Kingdom, where livestock farmers involved in the ASDA, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose supply chains are encouraged to use Germinal’s high sugar grasses to improve production efficiencies, animal performance and reduce their carbon footprint.
The role of red and white clovers in modern livestock systems is also growing, particularly as agricultural sustainability is now a mainstream priority. White clover, a natural nitrogen–fixer, presents a practical and cost-effective solution that can help reduce environmental impact while maintaining productivity.
Germinal’s AberLasting cultivar can maintain leaf water content for a week longer than traditional white clover when completely without water. It can also withstand overnight temperatures of minus -20°C, which would wipe out 70% of other white clover varieties.
“We are not just a supplier, but a researcher with vital knowledge of seed development,” says Sarah.
“Our primary focus is to develop new varieties for New Zealand, in New Zealand.”