05 May 2021
#ChooseAssured - From farm yard to farm assurance
Janet worked as a farm vet for 15 years before moving to Soil Association Certification. She talks about changing career, the skills from her veterinary career that she still uses, and what is involved in certification at Soil Association Certification.
On my daily cycle ride to work this summer, I have often thought about the farmers and vet colleagues with whom I used to work and the challenges they have been facing in the heat. From my own experience as a farm vet, I still vividly remember trimming a lame cow’s foot in the burning sun whilst wearing protective clothing and nearly passing out. But, despite these moments of challenge, I still look back fondly on that time and the relationships I formed.
I worked as a farm vet for 15 years and most of my career was based in the UK, apart from my first year in my native country The Netherlands and a spell in New Zealand. I loved working with farmers and farm vet colleagues and found them very down to earth. The clinical work gave me a lot of satisfaction and for a long time my vet career gave me the opportunity to continue learning. However, after 15 years my learning curve was reaching a plateau and I wanted a change.
I had already started studying Business Studies at the Open University and when I saw an advertisement for senior certification manager at Soil Association Certification, I applied and got the job. I started managing a team of 12 who look after the certification of around 2,000 organic farmers and growers. After 3 years in this role I was promoted to operations manager, supporting several teams involved in farming, processing, administration including forestry.
What is certification?
Soil Association Certification is an accredited Certification Body that does work on behalf of Defra and is independently audited by UKAS (UK Accreditation Service). Our main work relates to certifying to the organic standards. This is done, not just at a farm level, but along the supply chain, from processors, wholesalers and importers to the final product, showing organic integrity with the organic SA symbol to consumers. Our inspectors go out annually to visit organic farmers and also inspect our organic clients for the Red Tractor standards, in order to avoid a separate inspection.
There are many certification schemes for animal products, often causing confusion to consumers with the plethora of logos. What underpins the value of all these certification schemes is they are independently inspected to ensure that standards are adhered to and to give consumers confidence in the product. The standards cover different areas and BVA have recently produced an infographic depicting what they have identified as priorities in terms of animal welfare to help consumers gauge how different schemes measure up.
My role is to support the teams in the office who take the inspection report over from the inspector and interact with farmers on any non-compliant areas as well as supporting them throughout the year with any queries. It is important to make sure we follow all our accreditation processes as well as provide good customer service to farmers and these two aspects of the role can sometimes be difficult to align.
Despite a continued link with agriculture and animal welfare, I now have a completely different job to when I was a farm vet: from being outside and working on my own I now work in a busy office managing people. However, there are many similarities and skills I have transferred from my previous career. Vets are very good at taking in information from different angles and coming to a quick decision, which is a skill I use a lot in my current job.
My veterinary knowledge and background have also proved helpful for providing training on disease and prevention to the team, who have to review and approve restricted veterinary treatments.
The big link
The biggest link between my vet job and my current role is working with people. When asked what I most enjoyed about being a vet, I always replied ‘the relationships with farmers’, which may be surprising for a profession which is very animal focussed. My experience as a vet has helped massively in understanding farmers’ thinking and how best to communicate to them – keeping it short as they are very busy people!
I do sometimes feel guilty about leaving veterinary practice and not using my veterinary knowledge and experience. However, I have not regretted my change. I really enjoy my role and, in a more indirect way, I know I still contribute to animal welfare.
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