AgriSETA Learner Connect: Meet a plant pathologist

Senior plant pathologist Wilmarié Kriel may be a 'plant doctor', but getting along with people is one of her crucial skills

Not to be Missed

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Have you ever wondered how and why plants die? Maybe you are curious about the different plant diseases? Read on, this might be a career for you to pursue…

Wilmarié Kriel is a senior plant pathologist for the seed company Starke Ayres. Plant pathologists investigates and studies plant diseases – you can think about them as a kind of plant doctor.

Kriel says her daily activities changes with the seasons. “It shifts from the office to the field, tunnels and labs on a daily basis”. Her work requires passion and being a team player to work closely with farmers, marketers, plant breeders and biotechnologists.

“Be aware of your surroundings and you will be amazed at what is out there. If you are passionate about and love your job, the world is your oyster. Do what captivate you, not what pays the most,” is her advice to learners.

Through the AgriSETA Learner Connect initiative we want to help guide learners to fill the critical jobs in the agri sector where Mzansi needs their skills. You get to meet at least five interesting agri-professionals per week on our website and podcast as well as tuning in to 19 different radio stations across Mzansi.

Now it’s over to senior plant pathologist Wilmarié Kriel…

1Could you sum up your job for us? A plant pathologist studies diseases of plants and is commonly known as a plant doctor. We look at why plants get sick and the different organisms involved as well as the environmental and management factors that influence infection and disease development. I also investigate how these diseases can be controlled or managed with less economic damage. In the vegetable seed industry we focus on breeding plants that can have resistance to diseases and make good quality seeds and how to quickly pick up on any diseases and general disease management issues.

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2So, what does the day-to-day of your job entail? It depends on the season, shifting from the office to the field, growing tunnels and laboratories on a daily basis. I look for pests and diseases, managing integrated control options, growing pathogens and plants. I inject them with chemicals to treat the disease and evaluate the resistance levels. I also have to do record keeping and reporting.


What qualification do you need for this career? A minimum requirement would be a 4-year degree in agricultural science with specialisation in plant pathology. A Master of Science degree would actually be more ideal, followed by a doctoral degree. Good advice is to get some field experience before or together with your academic training.

4What are the character traits you need to be great at your job? Being passionate and a team player. Plant pathologists have to be able to interact with farmers, marketers, plant breeders, biotechnologists as well as the workers doing all the work growing the plants. You need to be able to give attention to detail and be able to gather essential information and collect different information to have a picture of what makes the plants sick. My job is almost like building a puzzle.

5What subjects do I need to become a plant pathologist? General agricultural subjects are important to give you the necessary background. This coupled with courses in plant breeding, microbiology, horticulture and agronomy and lots of plant pathology will give you all the tools to be successful.

6What do you love about agriculture as a space to work in? I love the variety of the activities in this job. My work is close to nature and I just adore the people you get in touch with. It is always interesting and challenging with all the practical science activities.

7Don’t be modest, tell us about your proudest career moments? I get excited about the small things I achieve. Like identifying a new fungus, getting new skills whilst making a difference for a farmer or a colleague. Finding a solution to a problem is very satisfying.

8What do you do when you’re not at work? Bird-watching, spending time with friends, watching NCIS or other crime series, or a bit of cricket, rugby or cycling like the Tour de France.

9Any advice for young people who are inspired by your career story here on AgriSETA Learner Connect? Become aware of your outside surroundings and you will be amazed at what is out there! If you are passionate about and love your job, the world is your oyster. Do what captivates you, not what pays the most.

10Where can I study to become a plant pathologist? The Universities of Pretoria, the Free State, Stellenbosch and KwaZulu-Natal offer a four year degree in agriculture and natural sciences where you can specialise in some form of plant pathology related study. I have also seen some diploma students from the various universities of technology working in a laboratory where they do plant pathology research. These will include students in biotechnology. This is a good start, but they also need education and training in the causes of diseases and injury (pathology) in plants. I would seriously recommend taking an agricultural degree in this field.

How to listen to AgriSETA Learner Connect:

Option 1: Click here to listen on Spotify (all mobile and other devices).
Option 2: Click here to listen on any Apple device.
Option 3: Click here to listen on Google Podcasts.
Option 4: Click here listen using this player. Just click “play”.

Catch AgriSETA Learner Connect on these radio stations:

  1. Waterberg Stereo: Bela Bela, Brits, Naboomspruit, Pietersburg, Pretoria, Thabazimbi, Tzaneen  – 104.9 FM
  2. Waterberg Stereo: Thabazimbi, Naboomspruit – 104.9 FM
  3. Laeveld Stereo: Nelspruit – 100.5 FM
  4. Lichvaal Stereo: Lichtenburg – 92.6 FM
  5. Overvaal Stereo: Viljoenskroon, Parys – 96.1 FM
  6. Maluti FM: Bethlehem – 97.1 FM
  7. Rosestad FM: Bloemfontein – 100.6 FM
  8. Wild Coast FM: East London – 98.6 FM
  9. Gamka FM: Oudtshoorn – 87.6 FM
  10. Kouga FM: Humansdorp – 97.8 FM
  11. Eden FM: Hessequa, Kannaland, Karoo, Oudtshoorn, Plettenbergbaai, Riversdale, Uniondale – 93.8 FM
  12. Radio Overberg: Bredasdorp – 98.4 FM
  13. Caledon FM: Caledon – 89.3 FM
  14. Whale Coast FM: Hermanus – 96.0 FM
  15. West Coast FM: Vredenburg – 92.3 FM
  16. Lara FM: Springbok – 91.6 FM
  17. NFM: Okiep – 98.1 FM
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