Knowing the power of marketing

As she reminisces about her time spent as an agri-marketing student at Harper Adams, it suddenly dawns on Sarah Long that it was just two years ago that she left university with her Masters degree.

Now development manager for Assured British Meats, the days of student union and college warden are far from her mind.

Life has taken on a different shape as she promotes technical development and improved communication with the beef and sheep industry on matters of farm assurance.

Her first dream, like many farmers’ daughters, was to become a large animal vet, but the three science subjects required at A-level put her off.

So, with her childhood of rearing calves on her family’s Norfolk farm behind her, she chose the agricultural college route but with marketing ambitions at the front of her mind.

In a mad moment during the first couple of months at Harper she decided to run for student union election.

“We’d heard tales about initiation tests and drinking copious amounts of alcohol, but when you’re actually part of it, blindfolded and dumped somewhere you don’t know, suddenly life has a whole new meaning.”

But the first real challenge came when she worked as assistant to Tesco’s agricultural manager in her middle year placement.

She admits she was thrown in at the deep end.

“It was the middle of foot-and-mouth and I had a different insight into how certain areas of the food chain were viewed from the other side of the farm gate.”

It was here she began to understand the role farm assurance played for retailers.

And by the time she had added a Masters degree in food marketing to her skills, she fully understood the need for farm assurance.

So seeing the advert for the job of development manager at ABM just after she graduated couldn’t have come at a better time.

“I was ready to stand on my own two feet and wanted the chance to develop my knowledge and passion.”

In a male-dominated industry, she certainly does stand on her own.

Whether it’s promoting market and abattoir standards, discussing assurance with farmers or meeting DEFRA and industry stakeholders in London, she carries it off with poise and confidence.

“It’s up to us to put appropriate standards in place and make sure they work for the good of the industry.”

Particularly as the industry is well placed to take advantage of over-30-months cattle coming into the food chain and the lifting of the export ban, she adds.

But Sarah is adamant there is still a long way to go.

“It’s good having intentions, but the livestock sectors are still fragmented – now really is the time to pull together.”

Even though there is no quick fix, she strongly believes that if farmers understood the true value of marketing their product, they would see it as an ideal tool for boosting profitability.

It’s clear that in just two years Sarah has already come a long way in the industry, so what’s next?

Although she smiles, and says married with children ideally, there are wider plans ahead for her in the industry.

“If you were to give me a magic wand, I would love to see farmers more focused on marketing by realising that producing for a way of life shouldn’t be top of their agenda.

Producing what the market wants and giving that bit extra should be.”

But eventually Sarah would love to have the chance to farm again.

“Dad always said I was a poacher-turned-gamekeeper, so I suppose I might like to show him I can poach again!”