Science and Farming: Hestia Finds Her Niche at RCL FOODS

Passionate about food from farm to fork, RCL FOODS offers a diverse range of career opportunities – including some you may not have heard of, like agronomy. For Hestia Saaiman, being an agronomist in our sugar business is an exciting combination between indoors and outdoors, technology and nature. Meet our intrepid “computer farmer” who is helping us do MORE – and inspiring other women to do the same.  Read More about Hestia’s journey at RCL FOODS. >

What led you to become an agronomist?

Growing up on the farm, I had a love for caring and tending to animals. I started a veterinary biology degree at university which exposed me to career paths that I didn’t even know existed. As my interest in plants and water grew, I switched to and completed a degree in plant production.

What does a day in your life look like?

I often say that I am a “computer farmer”. In the office, I do a lot of data analysis, computer modelling, report writing and providing recommendations to farmers. Out in the field, my work entails visiting sugarcane fields and finding solutions to problems like fertiliser requirements, irrigation scheduling and weed control. I love water management, so I would typically help out with scheduling the irrigation systems so that we use our water efficiently. If plants show symptoms of stress, I go and investigate the cause and recommend a solution. Much of my time is spent training farm managers, farm staff and other colleagues in how to use the agronomy software we developed to help us to make informed farming decisions. Seeing farmers successfully adopt these tools is very rewarding.

What has your experience been in the South African agricultural industry?

As a student, I was worried that farmers would not take too well to a young woman trying to give them advice – but it turned out to be quite the opposite. Farmers face many challenges and they are very welcoming to someone who is able to assist, regardless of race, gender or age. They are a fantastic group of people to work with; they are humble but also take pride in what they do. That being said, some of our best farm managers are actually young females!

How has the agricultural industry evolved during your career?

There has been a tremendous rise in precision farming and digital agriculture, with farmers using technology like drones and digital software to increase their productivity. When I was a postgraduate student, remote sensing and drones were only used as research tools; now they have evolved into platforms where, for instance, farmers can download free satellite imagery for their farms. Technology is truly transforming the industry.  

How do you keep growing and developing yourself?

I believe that we should never stop learning. I have been fortunate to do many short courses during my past few years at RCL FOODS, and I am currently completing an agricultural Master’s degree in horticulture.

Who has most influenced your career?

My father’s passion for agriculture and my upbringing on the farm had a huge impact on my career choice. My manager at RCL FOODS, Hennie Greyling, is equally passionate about farming and inspires our team never to stop innovating and always to remain responsible, proud and accountable for everything that we do.

What do you love about being an agronomist?

Agronomists are scientists who are not afraid to get their hands and shoes mud stained. I love being able to work in nature while at the same time using high tech equipment to get the job done. I especially love seeing the results of a team effort to get a good crop yield at the end of a season.

Which one of RCL FOODS’ values resonates with you the most?

As a scientist I am always looking at ways to improve current systems, so “seeing and doing things differently” resonates with me. Staying on top of the game whilst remaining sustainable will only be possible if we embrace change.  

We’re so proud to have such a passionate woman as part of RCL FOODS!

If you’re interested in a career with us, click here.