Tell us about your job
I am the Feedstock Strategy Manager at Future Biogas. On average, the Feedstock Team procures 500,000 tonnes of feedstock each year and manages the return of 330,000t of digestate back to farms. My role forms the link between my team and our Finance, and Biology departments internally and our investors (site owners) externally. A key part of my role involves understanding the business case for each of our sites and working with the Feedstock Team to ensure that our feedstock is on target in terms of budget and quality. Negotiating long term feedstock contracts and digestate storage arrangements is also a big part of my job. This involves understanding and being reactive to industry challenges, such as recent agricultural inflation, and longer-term agricultural policy.
The people in farming are genuine and incredibly hard working which gives the team a very positive outlook. Agriculture in the context of renewable energy adds further complexity to the job, both being rapidly evolving industries.
Being part of a small company in an emerging industry, I have had the opportunity to be creative and innovative in the commercial solutions we seek, in collaboration with my team and other departments
How did you get where you are now?
I studied Law at Sheffield University. When I graduated, I moved to London and worked in a private equity firm where I learnt about company law and acquisitions. I gained experience in a range of departments including property, litigation, corporate and banking law, before qualifying into the Corporate Department. My heart however was not in corporate law, and I always wanted to work in agriculture.
I left London and joined Future Biogas when the company and UK industry was in its infancy. We only had 2 sites and 10 members of staff at the time (we now run 11 sites and have approximately 130 members of staff). I set up a lot of the original feedstock contracts and data capture processes. I enjoy working with numbers which led to me doing feedstock and digestate budgets for all of sites and working closely with Finance to understand feedstock’s impact on each site’s finances. Over time I have worked to understand our costs in great detail which has helped drive a lot of our decision making.
How did your current role differ from your work in law?
My role is fundamentally different to law as I have had autonomy to develop myself in line with my strengths and interests as the company has grown. We are managing our sites on a long-term basis so all the work we do is to ensure that longevity of connection with our investors and suppliers.
Client facing relationships in law can be very demanding, often fleeting and therefore less rewarding. There is also less opportunity for teamwork and collaboration which is one of the more rewarding parts of my job. Having said this, I will never regret my training in law as it has formed an excellent foundation for a lot of what I now do.
What challenges do you face on a day-to-day basis?
Challenges have arisen from increasingly volatile weather and tightening of digestate spreading regulations creating a need for more storage. Such projects have multiple and complex hurdles to overcome: commercial, environmental, planning and legal. It has definitely been an exercise in resilience with plenty of ‘2 steps forward and 1 step back’ scenarios, but when a project is complete, it is immensely satisfying.
More recently, we have had a lot of challenge on the price we offer to our growers for AD crops. This has become a lot more complex considering huge changes in agriculture post-Brexit and global uncertainties. It has been very rewarding working with the team to understand other people’s perspectives and seek to arrive at a commercial position that works for all sides. One size does not fit all in farming with our suppliers ranging from large estates to smaller family farms.
Historically, women have not been represented equally in the farming industry. What advice would you give to women who aspire to be in the industry?
When I first sought a job in agriculture, I had a lot of knock backs. People could not see the link in skills between corporate law and agriculture. I also did not have a traditional background in arable farming which I suspect some employers were looking for. Farms are still predominantly run by men, probably due to an historic association with farming needing physical strength. However, farming is now becoming much more management focused with attention to detail and commercial sense giving farms the edge. There are a huge number of exciting opportunities arising in the agricultural industry with farms losing their subsidy income and having to be more commercially and environmentally focused.
My advice would be to choose a progressive employer. A good clue is to look at how many women make up the management team. I have had fantastic support from my manager who has championed women in the workplace. I genuinely believe business attitudes are changing, with just under 50% of the departmental managers at Future Biogas now being women. Try to understand what interests and motivates you in a role. Chat to recruitment agents, employers, or people in the industry for ideas. Understanding your own strengths and weaknesses and how you would fit into a role are key, but don’t fall into the trap of imposter syndrome. Women are very guilty of not seeking opportunities where they fear they cannot do 100% of the job. Don’t be put off by rejections – I have had too many to count!