Aideen Burke's father instilled a love of animals and agriculture in her at a young age; the 24-year-old grew up on a suckler and beef farm in Dromaan, Whitegate, East Clare.
As the fifth-generation farmer grew older, she became more interested in the business end of the sector which ultimately influenced her career path.
"From a young age, the prices of cattle in the mart intrigued me – I always had an interest in the running of the farm, not just the day-to-day jobs." Aideen Burke told Catherina Cunnane - That's Farming.
The Burke's farm - which is operated on a full-time basis by Aideen's father - overlooks Lough Derg and consists of a 40-hectare block, while an adjoining 25-hectares is leased long-term.
From 2005, the primary focus of the farm was finishing beef cattle but given the extremely tight margins in beef farming, a lot of research went into the possibility of contract-rearing dairy stock. In September of this year, the decision was made to take in 150 weanling heifers from a Co. Cork dairy farmer.
"These will be reared on our farm for 12-months and while it was a huge change to switch from Continental bullocks to dairy stock, they have settled in well and more importantly, provide a steady and regular income from the farm.” Aideen outlined.
UCD & Purdue University
With a keen interest in the agricultural and agri-food industries both in Ireland and internationally, Aideen enrolled in University College Dublin’s Agricultural Science – Food & Agribusiness Management degree programme.
“I loved business and accounting in school so always knew I wanted to go down the business route. A Food and Agribusiness Management degree was a perfect match for me – I loved my time at UCD and the course itself.”
The highlight of her course was an opportunity in third-year to spend her first semester studying at Purdue University in Indiana, USA. She opted to partake in a practical Dairy Management module which involved a 3-hour class on the university farm every week.
“This experience was invaluable to me as I hadn’t had a lot of opportunities to learn about dairy farming before this. This opened my eyes to agriculture on a global scale and how things were done in comparison to at home.” Aideen said.
When she returned home from America, Aideen began her 30-week compulsory Professional Work Experience (PWE) module.
She spent the first six months of her PWE with an animal health company where she gained her first experience of sales, and her dairy experience was very beneficial when it came to selling milk replacer and electrolytes. She also did some work in the marketing department of the company and carried out in-store promo days in various co-ops and stores around the country.
The remaining two months of her PWE were completed on a beef and sheep enterprise in Galway and with a grain and agricultural merchant in Offaly.
Slaney Foods & a Masters degree
Following the completion of her undergraduate degree, the Clare native began a 12-month graduate trainee management programme at Slaney Foods International in June-2016. She worked in all areas of the business, including the abattoir and boning production areas.
Aideen explained how the programme gave her great exposure to the running of the factory on a daily basis and the concept of supply chain management from the moment the animal is bought by the procurement team to the final product being loaded onto a truck by the despatch team.
“I had it in my mind at this stage that I wanted to do a Masters at some point but wanted to get a bit of experience first.”
In September-2017, Aideen began a two-year Part-Time MSc Management in UCD Michael Smurfit School of Business with the support of Slaney Foods; she is due to complete her studies in May-2019.
“Studying the Masters part-time gives me the opportunity to further my studies without putting my career on hold,” Aideen explained.
Following the completion of the graduate programme, Aideen progressed to the production planning department of the beef processing company.
“This role gave me exposure to how the day-to-day production processes on the site were managed; everything from what type of cattle to kill to when an order was to be despatched is managed by this department.”
In February of this year, Aideen moved to fill a position as Sales Executive; based in Bunclody, Co. Wexford, she is responsible for the coordination and management of Dutch and German sales in the company.
“Costing products is vitally important so the right sales price can be achieved and this along with other various projects in terms of production improvements are a key part of my responsibilities.”
A typical day for Aideen involves selling, order management and planning and ensuring logistics deliver product as required. She liaises with customers with regards to prices; requirements and market demand. Promotional planning is also in her remit ensuring the company meets order quantities and forecasts for future requirements.
“I love how no two days are the same – I am continually challenged to reach my potential and be the best that I can be in my role. I am given good exposure in the company and this helps to increase my knowledge of the business.”
“Understanding the cultures of different countries can be a challenge; I can see the differences between customers in this regard.”
“As in all job roles, experience comes with time in the role which can be a challenge for me - this, of course, will only come with time,” Aideen added.
Women in Ag
Aideen is of the opinion that women need to be given more recognition for the role they play within the agricultural industry; she believes all women play their own part in the success of what is a strongly male-oriented industry.
“Every week, we hear about different women making invaluable contributions to the Irish agri-food industry both on a national and international scale.”
“I think the stigma needs to be taken away from farming and agriculture that it is a man’s job.”
“Overall, I am enjoying my experience working in the agri-food industry. As a woman, I don’t think my experience so far has been any different to my male counterparts.”
Her advice to younger people considering pursuing a career in farming or agriculture is to get educated and learn as much as they can in the area they want to work in.
She also highlighted the importance of keeping informed by reading agricultural publications and communicating and networking with people working in the sector.
For her undergraduate thesis, Aideen carried out a study on the attitudes of young people towards a future in farming in East Clare; she surveyed agricultural science classes in a local school.
“4/5 of those from a farming background were interested in farming in the future – this type of statistic needs to be developed and young people encouraged to pursue a career in the agricultural sector if this is where their interest is.”
Satisfied in her current role, Aideen has a desire to continue to learn and expand her knowledge and experience in the agricultural industry. She wants to further her career in the business of beef processing.
“The Masters I am currently pursuing is giving me a good grounding in the logistical side of being a manager.”
“This degree together with my growing knowledge of the agri-industry will hopefully lead to me achieving my ultimate goal of being in a position of management within the agri-food sector.” Aideen Burke concluded.
“It is always important to have confidence in yourself and not to underestimate your abilities” - Aideen Burke
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Image source: Aideen Burke