A love for nature and a conversation with her uncle about his career path are what steered Meagan Vermeulen towards a career in Plant Pathology. Growing up in a small farming community in the Swartland also brought agriculture to her doorstep.

“I used to love going to WPK, which is now known as Agrimark, when I was a child. Today, I am motivated to do my work if it involves helping farmers, nurseries and plant improvement organisations. I hope that during my research I will find ways to improve plant health, which will ultimately contribute to sustainable production that benefits producers.”

Meagan is currently completing her PhD at the Department of Plant Pathology, Stellenbosch University (US-PP) and is based at ARC Infruitec-Nietvoorbij. She received a bursary from the National Research Foundation to complete her studies. Her specific field of research is trunk diseases of olive trees and the prevention and control of such diseases. Professor Francois Halleen and Professor Lizel Mostert are her supervisors. Her study forms part of the trunk disease collaborative program between ARC Infruitec-Nietvoorbij and US-PP and is partially funded by SA Olive.

According to Meagan, no research has been done on the epidemiology of olive trunk pathogens in South Africa. Such research is needed to identify key points in the South African olive production system, where management of olive trunk diseases would be most efficient at limiting further infections and spread of these pathogens. Also, no studies have been done on the temporal susceptibility of olive pruning wounds to infection by olive trunk pathogens and the efficacy of pruning wound protectants have not been studied. The aim of the project is to improve the olive industry’s competitive edge by providing clarity on trunk diseases affecting olive production and to provide the industry with clear guidelines to effectively control these diseases, thereby increasing plant yield, fruit quality and extending the productive lifespan of South African olive trees. “I love moving around, collecting samples and finding solutions which can perhaps be applied globally,” Meagan says.

Meagan feels that the right attitude goes a long way in creating momentum in one’s career. Looking at the future, Meagan is keen to enter the commercial arena to get extra exposure in her chosen career path. “I am currently evaluating what I would like to do next. It will most likely be in agriculture and I am open to gaining exposure internationally – it would be an amazing learning experience.”