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    Degree studies and Placement – perspectives of a solo parent

    4 July 2024

    Earlier this year, Kate Bruford, a third year BSc (Hons) Agriculture with Crop Management student, wrote this piece for a Harper Adams Agriculture newsletter, examining her time on placement.

    With a new crop of students about to start their placements, and others preparing to return and continue their studies, we’re sharing it as a guest blog.

    Choosing to start a degree during lockdown might sound like a cliché now, but after 10 years working in the tourism industry for minimum wage (or thereabouts), getting a degree seemed like a logical step.

    In late 2020 a lecturer at my local agricultural college suggested that I should be looking at higher prospects than they could offer and that, in his opinion, Harper Adams was the only place to consider going to do a degree. 

    After looking at the website and the courses available I agreed with him.

    However, I had my four-year-old daughter to consider before moving the pair of us three hours away from everyone we knew and our support network.  I figured I could deal with the academic studies side of things, as school would cover much of the time I needed childcare for.

    Placement would pose more of a problem though; I can cover office hours easily enough, but how often does farming conform to 9-5?

    The first point of contact I had with the university was an email to Terry Pickthall, Placement Manager, asking if there are many placement options available close to the university that might fit my situation.

    His response was very encouraging, and things started falling into place.   

    Early in my second year, knowing my interest in fresh produce, PDM Produce Ltd. was suggested to me by Professor Jim Monaghan as a large leafy salad farm who had taken on students before. The placement would be within the farm management team and involve lettuce. He wasn’t wrong.   

    PDM Produce is one of the largest leafy salad producers in the country, with two self-supplied processing and packing factories on site that provide bagged salad and whole-head lettuce to most supermarkets in the UK.

    Since starting my placement in mid-June 2023 in the Baby Leaf team, I have learnt a phenomenal amount about the running of a farming business of this scale, and that is just barely scraping the surface.

    Drilling starts in February and ends in September, harvest starts in April and continues almost every day of every week until the end of October or, if possible, the beginning of November when the Spanish side of the business takes over production to ensure continuity of supply.  

    My duties while working with the Baby Leaf Crop Manager over the season have included collating crop and field data, traceability administrative tasks, liaising with seed companies and their trials departments and a lot of crop walking.

    When last year’s harvest finished, I worked more closely with the previous placement student, now a Trainee Crop Specialist on the Whole-head Lettuce team, collecting soil samples along with reviewing and re-formatting the field and irrigation risk assessments for the entire farm with the Technical team.

    I have enjoyed the fast pace and sheer scale of my placement.

    Working in an area of the industry I hadn’t fully experienced before has really opened my eyes to the range of opportunities available to me. I feel the chance to gain contacts in multiple connected sectors as well as locally will significantly enhance my chances of finding employment when I finish my course.

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