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    "I wanted to see something unique"- how one Engineering student used a Spanish trip to investigate European agriculture

    25 January 2024

    MEng (Hons) Agricultural Engineering student, Rhodri Williams, has developed a keen interest in agricultrural engineering across the world - and has used scholarships, placements and prizes to investigate how different countries are applying engineering principles in agricultural practice. In this blog, he discusses his time looking at the subject in the north of Spain.

    With a passion for exploring and identifying alternate farming practices here in the UK, Rhodri competed and won the Gareth Raw Rees Memorial Scholarship supported by the NFU Mutual Charitable Trust.

    He said: “From a small town called Whitland, in West Wales, the difference in agriculture and standards from home to East Anglia is significant, let alone crossing the border into Europe where their practices are considerably different in many ways”.

    Rhodri won the award in the summer of 2022, near the end of his placement year in Germany, and decided to invest the funds in a trip to Spain. He and a colleague departed for the trip in mid-May of 2023 before his harvest commitments here in the UK.

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    Rhodri said: “I wanted to see something unique, an agricultural setup specific to the area it lives. I researched many places in Western Europe and even Northern Africa Regions such as Morocco and Algeria. I struggled to gain contacts, and areas of intense agriculture that could expose me to their practices and traditions. However, I found three or four really good opportunities in Spain, Portugal, and Italy. The Spanish contact was in the Northern Regions of the country, near the city of León.”

    Rhodri was fortunate to be put in contact with Dr Leticia Chico-Santamarta who co-ordinates Latin American and Carribean partnerships at Harper Adams – but whose family farm in Spain run MERCOFRAN, a John Deere Dealer for both National and International business.

    The family farm is concentrated on arable along with neighbouring farms housing livestock. That season, the farm was growing Alfalfa, Fallow, Peas, Maize and Sugar beet, with a total irrigation area of 400 Hectares and with livestock used in cycle with the arable crops.

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    With Rhodri eager to experience the agricultural landscape, Manuel, Leticia’s brother, delivered a farm tour showing a blanket overview of the farm. 

    Rhodri explained: “It was immense, the detail of which they farm and the technology they use. Manuel had excellent English skills which helped my chances of learning as much as I could, by asking questions at any point on something different to a practice I had seen before maybe in the UK.

    “It was really interesting because so much land was not used, with nothing grown in it - simply because of irrigation and drought-affected fields.

    “In this region of Spain, the only way to grow a crop is with good and reliable irrigation. Fortunately for this farm, they were one of few farms with the latest irrigation system, allowing them to maximize their yields and opportunities to grow different crops.

    “The engineering side of the business was cool, learning that even though the farmer has control over their irrigation systems, they must pre-book their irrigation in advance.

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    “For example, they irrigated one field whilst we were there with 5mm of water, this was ordered from the main pumping station operated by a separate company a few days prior. It shows that even with all the technology, they still must co-operate with the local companies to use it.”

    Rhodri also visited a neighbouring farm which produced beef cattle. as well as its arable setup. The farm’s beef farming was more aligned with that of British Beef production, upheld to a great standard. A small-scale vineyard was also experienced, however, nothing on the scale of the vineyards they experienced in Southern Spain, renowned for its hotter climates.

    Rhodri – who spent a year in Germany at CLAAS for his placement – said the Spanish culture and the traditions all added to the experience of the trip.

    He said: “Understanding the key differences between the UK and Spain is interesting, from political attitudes to farming practices and the culture and lifestyle is significant. This trip has taught me a lot about these points, and with the welcoming factor of the family in Spain, I was fortunate to experience so much.

    He added: “This trip was ultimately made by Leticia and Manuel, who exposed me to the Spanish agriculture, a massive thank you to them.

    “I’d also like to thank those who helped me secure my scholarships, the Douglas Bomford Trust who encourage these opportunities, as well as CLAAS for their funded Scholarship. 

    “Finally - thank you to Paula Misiewicz for connecting me with Leticia and the whole Family in Spain!”

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