The women behind the research

// B+LNZ

This International Women's Day, we celebrate the women of B+LNZ’s research team driving agricultural innovation. Their groundbreaking research, spanning soil health to animal welfare, is focused on finding practical solutions to improve farmers’ productivity and profitability now and in future.

image of B+LNZ women

From left to right: Dr Cara Brosnahan, Dr Suzi Keeling, Angela McFetridge, Sonya Shaw, Dr Gemma Jenkins, Dr Mhairi Sutherland, Dr Cynthia Laurence, and Dr Jane Chrystal.

New Zealand’s sheep and beef sector is underpinned by good science and the B+LNZ research team works with research institutes and universities on projects that deliver on-farm benefits. The three main areas of focus for our research and science investment are farming systems, animal health and production, and the environment.  

Driving a lot of this research are a group of talented women.  

Dr Suzi Keeling is our sector science strategy manager and as a true researcher believes in asking lots of questions. She champions a comprehensive approach to research, considering various aspects of farming systems and always keeping the benefit to farmers front of mind. Her key focus is ensuring the research undertaken by B+LNZ is not only innovative but also directly applicable and beneficial to the farming community. She has played a crucial role in helping B+LNZ take a greater leadership role in designing, planning, leading, and delivering research for farmers. 

Dr Cara Brosnahan, principal advisor for animal health research, brings her passion for agriculture to her role, having been raised on a sheep and beef farm. Cara is actively involved in the facial eczema research project, even getting her hands dirty collecting sheep poo for the study.  Facial eczema is a challenge many farmers face, primarily in the North Island to date, costing the NZ economy a whopping $332 million annually in lost production. The research hopes to offer farmers solutions that can mitigate the disease's impact and ultimately contribute to the wellbeing of livestock and farm sustainability.  

Dr Gemma Jenkins is the genetics programme manager charged with managing the Informing New Zealand Beef (INZB) programme, a partnership supported by B+LNZ, the Ministry for Primary Industries, and the New Zealand Meat Board on increasing uptake of the use of high-quality genetics in the beef industry. When Gemma’s not working on this programme that aims to boost the sector’s profits by $460 million over the next 25 years, she is mum to her two beautiful girls, that she cites as her greatest achievement. She is a big red meat fan, confidently stating NZ has the best red meat in the world without a doubt.  

Working alongside Gemma is veterinarian Sonya Shaw who is the project manager for the commercial beef herds for the INZB programme. A normal day of work for her involves talking to beef farmers about taking DNA samples of their beef cows and also collecting data from their animals such as growth rates, so that they can get more information about the breeding worth of their animals. Sonya says “I find farmers inspiring to work with!  They need to have so many skillsets for farming in New Zealand and seem to juggle different aspects of farm life from animal knowledge, pasture management, regulations to business management.” 

Dr Cynthia Laurence runs the Cool Sheep programme, the world’s first attempt to use genetics to reduce the methane produced from our livestock. “One of my favourite parts of the role is being able to apply science in a practical setting. I like contributing to empowering farmers with tools to make a difference on their farm and in their communities.” 

Dr Mhairi Sutherland, Senior Advisor for Research Programmes, is passionate about research that has practical solutions and tools for farmers. She got into the sector as it is one of the few industries that allow her to follow her belief that “to make a difference you sometimes need to get your boots dirty.”  Her involvement in the Hill Country Futures Partnership programme aims to future-proof the profitability, sustainability, and well-being of New Zealand’s hill country farmers and rural communities. Her goal is to create accessible and engaging resources that empower farmers with the tools they need for success. 

Dr Jane Chrystal is manager of the policy insights team, AKA the women who can do-it-all; doing your PHD, working and raising babies is no small task. Combining her love for farm animals with scientific expertise, Jane’s work informs B+LNZ's policy positions. Her role involves considering the interconnected nature of farming decisions, highlighting the unintended consequences of policies, and guiding decision-makers toward environmentally conscious and practical solutions. 

Angela McFetridge, the lead designer at B+LNZ, plays a pivotal role in organising how research applies within systems, programs, farms, communities, and the wider industry. She strives to integrate design principles into research and programs, encouraging a continuous cycle of improvement and updates.  She is driven by a passion for making a positive impact that resonates with farmers, recognising the vital role they play in shaping the sustainability and success of our agricultural landscape. 

Together, these women and others help drive insights and actions as integral parts of the B+LNZ research team. Their collective efforts not only drive innovation within the sector but also empower farmers to overcome challenges, adopt sustainable practices, and enhance the overall profitability and productivity of their operations.