Laura McQuillan-Reese’s self-drive, intentionality and hands-on farming experience rivals most her age. As Perrin Ag’s newest graduate advisor, she is poised to make her mark on New Zealand’s agricultural sector.
Perrin Ag launched its Empower Graduate Advisor Development Programme in September last year, inviting applications from graduates from Massey, Lincoln and Waikato universities. Laura was the obvious choice.
Laura (23) grew up on a sheep farm in the small town of Hawarden, Christchurch. From the time she could walk, she was out helping on farm with the animals. It was in those early years that Laura began learning the art of stockmanship and nurturing her passion for farming.
“I was always in the yards with Dad and loved getting involved with feeding out as a kid,” she says. “My parents taught me how to work with stock and how to move them with minimal stress. My education in farming really began at home.”
Though high school took Laura away from Hawarden, she kept connected to farming over the weekends. During her final year at school, she made a decision that would shape her career in agriculture.
“I was keeping my options open and chose to study in France for the year. But before leaving, I told myself that if I came back and still felt passionate about agriculture, I would go for it as a career.”
After 12 months abroad, Laura’s love of farming was undiminished.
While most of her classmates opted to continue lecture-room learning at university, Laura strategically chose another path.
“I was definitely going to university but didn’t feel the need to rush into another classroom,” she says. “What I wanted was experience with different farming systems, so for a year I worked as a casual shepherd for local farms. I helped with tailing, shearing and whatever else they needed during the busy periods. The insights I gained into these farm systems were gold.”
Though her time at Lincoln University began in 2018, Laura kept building on her practical farming knowledge in parallel with her study towards a Bachelor of Agricultural Science.
Her first summer was spent working at Mt Algidus Station (Rakaia Gorge, Canterbury) where Laura helped run 3,000 crossbred ewes and 1,500 beef cows. It was a crash course in extensive grazing and cropping rotations.
Laura spent her second summer in Greenpark (Christchurch) on a 1,000-cow dairy farm and her third at Kimihia Research Centre with the PGG Wrightson Seeds’ plant breeding team.
Her Honours year at university was inspired by her upbringing on a sheep farm, but also by the marketing and supply chain approach of the wool industry. Convinced by the value opportunities for wool as a fibre, Laura studied the quality of crossbred wool production in New Zealand and what opportunities that could provide for the industry.
As if Laura’s final two years at Lincoln weren’t busy enough, she chose that time to rear 130 Spring calves per year on leased land to help fund her studies. After creating a viable business plan, she submitted an annual budget to secure bank financing. As well as working with stock agents, vets and suppliers, Laura also secured a forward contract for the calves at 100kg liveweight.
It was this level of drive that caught the eye of Perrin Ag’s Managing Director, Lee Matheson.
“The first thing I noticed from Laura’s CV was how self-directed she was in her learning,” he says. “Her CV is crammed with on-farm experiences that clearly align with her goals. The fact that she reared and sold spring calves in her final year at uni is impressive. That level of intentionality in a 23-year-old is quite something.”
In the latest leg in Laura’s journey with Perrin Ag, she is mentored by experienced agribusiness consultants over two years. It is hands-on from the outset, which suits Laura down to the ground.
“I love getting into things straight way. I’m going out with a variety of consultants, and I’m seeing a wide range of primary industries and systems. I’m excited to gain a real breadth and depth of experience,” she says.
“The Perrin Ag team is extremely creative. They don’t have rigid, templated solutions. They start by listening to each farmer – and they really do listen – then they bring in their knowledge to add value to what a farmer wants to achieve. I’ve already seen some great innovation from this approach, and I’m thrilled to be a part of it.”