Powered by our people: Kate Light, Senior Breeder, Nutrien Ag Solutions Australia

Kate Light is a Senior Breeder in our Australian business, a role that doesn’t have a “typical day” and allows her to work with a global team. Read on to learn more about her and how her work leads to the food on your table. 

What does a “Senior Breeder” do?  

One thing I love about my role is that there is no such thing as a typical day. I am a research project manager who draws on the knowledge of a whole suite of scientific areas to design, implement and manage a canola breeding program.  My work involves the use of agronomy, biometrics (advanced statistics), molecular biology, phenology, plant pathology, genetics and breeding. I try to use all these tools at the right time, in the right mix, to continue the progression of the breeding program. Report writing, negotiation of contracts, management of external contractors and communication are also important parts of my role.  

What is the most rewarding part of your job? 

My reward is two-fold but both center on people – people I work with and growers.  

Canola breeding from first cross to commercial product can take eight to 10 years and the whole timeline involves a worldwide Nutrien Canola Research & Development team effort. Not any one person is solely responsible for the programs’ success. From Saskatoon staff in the greenhouse and molecular lab and the fantastic breeding team there, to seed production staff in Alberta, great contractors in Chile and Australia and finally the two of us in the Dyna-Gro breeding program in Horsham, Australia – if we don’t work together, robustly discuss ideas and help each other the process wouldn’t work.  

From a grower perspective, releasing a new Canola variety or Hybrid that may help maintain or improve their bottom line and contribute to smaller family farms remaining profitable is my long-term pay-off.  When it goes well there is nothing like it, and every year there is at least one thing that always makes me think – yep… WE got that right.  

Did you always see yourself in a STEM career? 

The short answer is yes. As to what exactly that career would be, it evolved as I grew and my eyes opened to what was possible. I have two parts to my core personality – I am logical and curious. I also don’t mind failing if it means I learn something. Science was a perfect fit as it allowed me to follow the basic rules but then discover some of my own in the search for improvement.   

I was always linked to farming and my father propagated plants in the backyard. As I progressed through school, I maintained I wanted to study Agricultural Science, yet others thought Medicine would be a better idea.  Eventually, I completed the first year of a Physics degree at university, but could not imagine myself in a physics lab all my life.  I transferred to Agricultural Science and knew straight away that it was where I always should have been. With my interest in plants, I worked with the largest canola seed company in Australia during my summers. As they say, the rest is history. 

How do you think employer programs designed to support women employees (e.g., mentorship, scholarships, etc.) help women to succeed and benefit the company overall? 

After working in senior technical roles, I was offered the opportunity to be a canola breeder when I was 26. At that time, I was (and still am) the only female canola breeder in Australia so I stood out.  If there were programs I could have accessed at the time to support women employees, I would have understood sooner that these roles are not offered to women because they are women, they are offered because they can do the job.   

That support and training would have made me a more confident plant breeder more quickly and benefitted the companies I was working with as they would have had an employee who knew her contributions were both wanted and valued.  Sometimes, I am still the only female in the room, but I no longer feel like I stand out. I wish I had some support programs to make me feel that way two decades ago. 

What is a fun fact about you that people may not know?  

I am a bit of an adventurer, and this has given me two fantastic “past lives” - I am proud to have represented Australia Internationally a number of times in Clay Target Shooting and I hold a Private Pilot’s License.