By Matt McIntosh
What career possibilities were you indoctrinated with as a child? Did your parents or others suggest you become a lawyer? A tradesman? Perhaps even an engineer of trains or mechanical design? What about a crop science regulatory consultant?
To that last one, I suspect your answer is no.
I know that, for my own part, I never heard such a title in my younger days. Considering I grew up a farm kid and have been working in agricultural communications for years now, I’m willing to bet very few of my less-agricultural peers have heard of it either.
What is a crop science regulatory consultant you ask? In short, it’s an individual that assists companies in registering new products – insecticides, fungicides, and herbicides for instance – with the government. Governments, as we know, need to regulate things, and registering agricultural products for sale and use within a given political jurisdiction involves long, rigid certification processes – this is particularly true in Canada, which has some of the strictest food safety regulations in the world.
Someone has to know the process, after all, and be willing to complete the associated paperwork.
Brenda Nailor, a resident of Guelph, Ontario, is someone who knows the job inside and out. She holds a PhD in Plant Pathology, has worked in the agricultural industry for her entire professional career, and as of 2001, has been helping companies from across the globe complete product registration requirements in Canada.
“While I was a student I worked as a crop research assistant – we called ourselves ‘plot monkeys’ – on a research farm. Eventually, in 1999, I started working as a registration specialist for a company where I helped get new products registered for sale in Canada,” says Nailor.
The company she worked for is a large international agricultural company that develops products using brand-new active ingredients. New products, she explains, require extensive testing in the field and the lab before you can even start thinking about registering them for sale.
“You have to explain the active ingredient – what pest it’s effective against, and what crop it can be used on – as well as conduct the toxicology studies covering any potential human and environmental safety risks,” says Nailor. “That and any other relevant information is submitted to Health Canada, which reviews the data for three years; if the product is approved, farmers will be able to buy it.”
Eventually Nailor left the company and, several years later, almost fell into her current consulting role.
“I didn’t even mean to start out on my own. I quit my job, but was called by a local crop protection company the next day to help with a special project,” she says.
“I started getting more and more calls basically through word of mouth, and now I’m working as a full-time consultant with companies in the USA, Japan, Belgium, The Netherlands, the United Kingdom, India and Italy.”
It’s not all agricultural either. Indeed, Nailor also works with companies that are trying to register products as varied as bug-spray, pet products, and even new types of wood preservatives. She even writes the product labels – directions of use, caution notes, and so on – which can be tricky for a market you have no experience in.
Her favorite thing, of course, is the diversity in her job. Much like that sentiment so often reiterated by farmers, Nailor says every day is different. She gets to talk to very intelligent and interesting people from all around the world, and is constantly learning.
Her business is booming too. This, she says, is in part because only a handful of people throughout the country do what she does, which means there is plenty of work to go around.
“I have no farm background. I learned everything through work experience from university onward,” she says. “I always encourage people to take a summer job in their future career field as early as they can. Even if it doesn’t pay the best, it is experience you can build on and it will open a lot of doors.”
Perhaps the take-home message isn’t to tell every child and teenager to become a product registration consultant – the rebel and rock star in me would have certainly rolled his eyes at such a notion. It is important, however, to remember that there are other careers out there besides what we read about in children’s books, and that falling into a profession is often just as rewarding as setting out with a goal in mind.
The world of agriculture is incredibly diverse, after all.
We’re blogging about Canadians working in agriculture. Each month, we’ll feature someone different on www.realdirtblog.ca to show how diverse our Canadian agriculture industry is! Know someone that we should feature? Send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.