In today’s blog, alumnus Ben Jagger from East Yorkshire, shares his journey from joining Harper Adams through to his role as an Arable Agronomist for Hutchinsons. Guest written by the 24 year old, Ben takes us through his early agricultural interests through to being the first to pass the Professional Adviser Standard and how others can gain a career in the agronomy sector:
Prior to attending Harper Adams, I was unsure what to do. After I finished a level 3 BTEC in Agriculture, I worked on a nearby 2,500 acre arable farm not far from home in Leven, East Yorkshire. I worked there for two years and whilst on the farm I was particularly keen to take on responsible roles which lead to me driving the sprayer. This was an opportunity I was very fortunate to receive, and I took it on with great care to prove my capabilities to the farm foreman and owner. Through this role I was able to recognise the value of the agrochemicals I was applying and making an error was not an option - trust and respect began to build.
I have always been passionate about crop production and particularly arable farming. Contract farming has always run through the family, so I decided it wanted to take my studies further with the aim of securing a career in agronomy. I looked no further than to study a BSc (Hons) degree in Agriculture and Crop Management at Harper Adams University - the course was exactly what I was looking for.
My first challenge was adapting to being back in the classroom and getting used to lectures and exams. I don’t think I’m the most academic individual (whilst I was at secondary school I had to work really hard to jump up sets in classes), so I knew a lot of work would be needed to make my degree pay off. The highlight was graduating with a 2:1, but I also made lifelong friends over the four years I studied at Harper. I cannot quite believe how quick those four years flew by!
The combination of lectures and tutorials are a great way for anyone to challenge the lecturers, check understanding or simply ask for help. I found the tutorials to be a great way of interpreting the lecture and putting it into a more practical mind set. Having the farm on campus really sets the university apart from any other agricultural universities. Being able to get out in the field and go on crop walks was invaluable and a particularly important way to learn. We could carry out assignments on fields and create our own research on the crops; whether it be collecting our own data or using the data from the virtual farm to formulate a conclusion.
Harper Adams incorporates a placement year into the syllabus which allows you to direct yourself into specific areas of interest. It also allows you to determine whether you think a potential career path will work for you and, more importantly, if it won’t! Things don’t always work out and that’s life, but it makes you work harder to achieve an end goal. I applied for various crop production and agronomy-based scholarships whilst in my second year of study. I didn’t hear back from any of them but nevertheless I kicked on.
Soon after I had my first encounter with Hutchinsons at an agricultural show and I left my details with a graduate who had recently joined the Hutchinson Foundation. I was then contacted by Caroline Tootell (Training Manager) which led to an interview with Mike Young (one of the Directors). At this time Hutchinsons didn’t offer a year placement role but I was told to keep in touch and apply for their graduate scheme in my fourth and final year of study at Harper.
I applied for a placement role as a Development Agronomist for BASF PLC based in Woolpit, Suffolk and was very fortunate to get the job. I’d never visualised myself working in crop trials, never mind for one of the world's leading R&D companies. I got well and truly stuck in and took on many responsibilities and learned so much whilst I was with BASF PLC.
As I entered my fourth year at Harper, I kept in touch with Hutchinsons and this led to a series of interviews. When I received a call from Mike Young informing me that I would be joining the company in September I was speechless and very grateful. At the time my degree was not finished, and I still had my final year exams to do – all of which had to be done under the new working practices caused by COVID-19. I received my exam results in June and I found out I had achieved a 2:1 - I was very pleased – and it allowed me to reflect on my journey through school, college and my four years at Harper Adams and the hard work to continue into a career.
I started at Hutchinsons in September as a member of their Foundation programme – working towards being an Agricultural Professional Adviser. I couldn’t have felt more welcomed after being here for what is now approaching three months! I knew the strong reputation of the comprehensive training programme the company runs, which particularly made me want to be a part of it. The company are crop production specialists with over 200 industry-leading advisers. The training and help I have already received whilst working for the company couldn’t have been better. The company is a family owned business which was important to me - it’s an aspect which is unique in this sector and highly valued by the business and the staff.
The Hutchinsons Foundation have now incorporated an additional qualification to the foundation spectrum, called the Professional Adviser Standard. I am very lucky to have the opportunity to join the Foundation at this exciting time and be the part of the first group of trainees to go through the qualification. The Standard has been developed to work alongside the qualifications such as FACTS and BASIS which I will gain along my learning journey through the Foundation.
The Professional Standard ensures advisers can deliver the most comprehensive level of agronomic, environmental, legislative and crop husbandry advice to growers and farmers. The Standard overviews the whole aspect of being a professional adviser, which I believe is crucial. The role of an agronomist is changing, with an ever-increasing focus on environment, precision farming and adopting new technology. With recent changes to the Agriculture Bill, plus the uncertainty of our forever changing climate, the job of farmer and adviser are becoming harder and harder. Therefore, being able to advise growers with a technical depth will be heavily relied on in the future to ensure growers can maintain production, quality and yield but more importantly manage their inputs costs to be more productive. I expect the Professional Adviser Standard to be a rewarding qualification which will benefit my career for the company and provide its trainees with the highest level of agronomic advice available.
My advice to anyone who is aspiring to become an agronomist or adviser in the future is to work hard and to grab every opportunity that comes your way. Agriculture is facing challenges and resilience is key. Our generation has so much to offer to agriculture whether that be professional advice, consultancy or general farm work. Agricultural as an industry is full of challenges - challenges to make us work harder and smarter. No matter what, if you put your mind to anything, you will reach your goal. It might not be on the first attempt nor the second, but nothing is impossible. I want to thank all the agricultural lecturers at Harper and the University for the help and guidance I received because without it I wouldn’t be where I am now.