Women in Ag: Clare Bradley from AgriSea

By: Shannon Williams

AgriSea’s Clare Bradley is passionate about sustainability, working together as a community, and the importance of recognising the hard work women do in the rural sector

While Clare is just as happy quietly working behind the scenes, she was recently put in the spotlight with her efforts formally recognised by the NZI Rural Women NZ Business Awards, where she was awarded the prestigious Supreme Winner title.

Having also earlier won the award’s Love of the Land category, Clare says the award was a culmination of the Paeroa-based company’s hard work and commitment to improving the way the rural sector does business.

Family business

AgriSea's Clare Bradley

AgriSea was founded more than 20 years ago by Clare’s mother and father-in-law, Jill Bradley and Keith Atwood. The company produces seaweed-based concentrates used in the agriculture, horticulture, viticulture, and apiculture sectors.

Jill and Keith spent one summer in the 1990s visiting a range of farms all across the country, and one in particular stood out. With its major farm input being seaweed, the farm had no health problems with soil, plants, pasture, or animals. The rest, as they say, is history.

"They started researching seaweed all around the world to see who uses it, what it’s good for, and how it was used. In New Zealand, we have close to 1000 species of seaweed. So they started making their own products for themselves and it just grew from there," Clare explains.

Nature’s smörgåsbord

AgriSea has been brewing quality seaweed products since 1996. Photo: Dave Allen

According to AgriSea’s website, seaweed contains minerals, vitamins, growth promotants, trace elements, and amino acids – it’s a nutrient ‘feast’, a smörgåsbord for soil biology, plant, and animal health.

Before marrying into the family, Clare had a background in biology and environmental science and spent a number of years working in the Amazon rainforest looking at ways to help the environment while working with the local communities.

"The whole idea of empowering small communities to do big things while looking after the environment was in my DNA already," she says.

So with husband Tane in tow, Clare moved to Paeroa 13 years ago, and five years ago, the pair took over the day-to-day running of the business.

"It’s still a family business; we’ve just injected a new generation into it," she says.

A rural helping hand

Clare says one of the benefits of their products is that they can fit in with any management system. Photo: Dave Allen

Clare says what makes AgriSea special is the company’s commitment to providing solutions that will help farmers and growers perform into the future.

"Our rural sector is getting unfairly hammered at the moment. We can’t continue to do this work without well-researched alternatives. We work really close with farmers and growers to help find solutions and we invest heavily in research and development," she explains.

"The seaweed industry in New Zealand is very small, but it’s also a sunrise industry with a lot of potential. We are always evolving and looking at how we can look generations ahead of ourselves to protect our future. One of our key drivers is that we’re always looking five, 10, 100 years away at what we need to start doing now – not only to keep current but also to make sure we’re in a position to be able to keep providing solutions to the sector."

AgriSea’s biggest customer base in New Zealand is dairy farmers. They use the products on crops and as well as with the animals.

"One of the benefits of our products is that they can fit in with any management system. Often people can reduce synthetic inputs and replace it with AgriSea. We have lots of customers who reduce synthetic inputs, and as a result they save money and have better soil and health outcomes. Early indications from our research shows there’s better environmental outcomes and the cost savings become pretty obvious."

Clare says it’s hugely important that the farming community works together as a sector.

"Rural business awards really highlight the amazing innovations, entrepreneurs, and ideas that we have in our rural community. We need every opportunity to bring people together because that is how we can come up with better solutions to ensure the future of our food production."

A positive focus

Clare Bradley with husband Tane

According to Clare, sustainability is key to ensuring a future for the sector.

"At the end of the day, it’s what our consumers are demanding. Consumers want transparency, they want to know what they are eating and drinking, that the meat and milk they are consuming are not having negative effects on the environment. It’s important we can show farming in a responsible way because of all the negative stuff out there. It’s driven by consumers and we need to answer that call."

NZI Rural Women NZ Business Awards

Clare with NZI’s Christina Chellew. Photo: Luke Calder Photography

Seven category award winners competed for the Supreme Award at this year’s NZI Rural Women NZ Business Awards. AgriSea was named the winner in the Love of the Land category. The event, hosted by the Minister for Primary Industries Damien O’Connor, took place at Parliament.

Clare says taking out the Supreme Award initially came as a shock.

"My husband entered me without me knowing, so it was a shock to hear I was a finalist. I feel really blessed to have such an incredible group of staff around us and that award is really a result of their hard work," she says.

"The recognition is good for the business and for what we are aiming to achieve in the world. It really does give you more fire in the belly to continue the work you do."

The awards provided an opportunity to recognise the contributions of women in the rural sector.

"The empowerment of women in our community is one of the number-one ways we can help the environment. Rural women are often wearing so many hats. They’re training their kids’ sports, they’re running businesses, they’re on the PTA. This is an opportunity to take a breath and really recognise the work women do in our rural community."

Clare’s message to other rural business women is to enter the awards for 2020. She says it’s a worthwhile process to spend time on your business and get among an amazing group of enterprising rural women.

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