You don’t have to live on a farm to pursue a career in agriculture. Dr Adré Minnaar-Ontong (43) is a senior lecturer and head of plant breeding at the University of the Free State and guess what? She is not living on a farm.
Initially she wanted to persue a career in medicine, but an aptitude test guided her to agriculture. Minnaar-Ontong’s family did not own a farm and, at the time, she thought this was a prerequisite to work in agriculture. “Believe me, it’s not and don’t let it (not owning a farm) ever dissuade you from choosing agriculture.”
Her work as the head of plant breeding at the university involves teaching agricultural students about the importance of food security. She facilitates hands-on practical sessions with undergraduate students though most of her time is spent supervising Master’s and PhD students in their post-graduate research programmes. “There is never a dull moment when it comes to plant breeding,” she says.
Mzansi learners, to one day possibly step in her shoes you must be goal-driven and have the passion to really make a difference. The research and development will flow freely from this, believes Minnaar-Ontong.
This is another exciting career featured on Food for Mzansi and 19 radio stations over the country as part of our AgriSETA Learner Connect Campaign. Through AgriSETA Learner Connect we want guide learners to fill the scarce and critical jobs in the agricultural sector.
Dr Adré Minnaar-Ontong now tells us all we need to know about her job as senior lecturer and head of plant breeding at the University of the Free State.
1Could you sum up your job for us? My job is to open up minds and opportunities teaching entry-level agricultural students on the importance of food security. At the University of the Free State, plant breeders are trained to produce or improve crops and provide high-quality food to everyone, especially people in the community who cannot always afford it.
2So, what does the day-to-day of your job entail? Teaching and hands-on practical sessions with undergraduate students is at the core. In addition, I spend most of my time supervising senior students in our post-graduate research programmes. People who just do plant breeding usually have a busy daily routine that includes greenhouse work, field activities, laboratory research, and office tasks. Breeding programmes exist for crops, fruits, nuts, herbs, ornamentals, trees, and flowers of every description that creates a wide scope of exciting possibilities for the breeder. With genetic engineering, an entire field in breeding has opened up, with endless possibilities. The plant breeder has ample opportunities to travel to international conferences and workshops, which are presented regularly.
What qualification do you need for this career? A four-year agriculture degree will get your foot in the door as a plant breeder in the agricultural sector. Most companies will also encourage young plant breeders to pursue a post-graduate degree.
4What are the character traits you need to be great at your job? You must be goal-driven and have the passion to really make a difference. Research and development will flow freely from this.
5What subjects do I need to become a plant breeder? To qualify for university studies, you will need to pass matric with degree endorsement and at least 30 NSC points. Maths and life sciences are compulsory subjects. If you are lucky to study at a school offering agricultural sciences, that will also count in your favour.
6What do you love about agriculture as a space to work in? I love the ample opportunities to provide for the needs of society – even when current environmental conditions and the ever-changing climate do not always allow this.
7Don’t be modest, tell us about your proudest career moments? Seeing students that I taught excelling as plant breeders, whether it is the local or international level is a heart-warming moment.
8What do you do when you’re not at work? I love spending time with my family and writing short stories.
9Any advice for young people who are inspired by your career story here on AgriSETA Learner Connect? Believe in who you are to be able to instil .the change you want to see and the rest will follow.
10Where can I study to become a plant breeder? Most universities offer this qualification and usually pant breeding is offered in the faculties of either natural or agricultural sciences. Plant breeding can also be combined as major with agronomy, genetics, plant pathology, and grassland science. Excellent research facilities are available. Students can also take part in exchange agreements with overseas universities and acquire credit for courses completed at these universities.
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