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From town to country - Becky's breaking into the agri-food sector

Posted 31 March 2016

converts to the industry can acquire as much knowledge as those who are third and fourth generation farmers."

Becky Callaghan

Becky Callaghan is one of a growing number of agriculture students coming to Harper Adams from an urban background. As she nears completion of her degree, Becky reflects on what she has learned at university and how she can make her mark in the agri-food industry. 

Hi, my name is Becky. I’m 22 and a final year Agriculture with Animal Science Undergraduate at Harper Adams University. Unconventionally for an agricultural student I am not from a farming background; I am what some might call “a townie”. 

I grew up in Co Durham and went to secondary school in Gateshead, Tyne and Wear. I am the only person from my school and the surrounding area to have gone to Harper Adams or to have studied agriculture. To this day many of my friends at home, four years into my degree, are still unsure as to why I chose to study this subject in the first place.

Some are convinced that my degree is simply learning to drive tractors, feed cows and grow grass, but this is not the case. I am learning the scientific knowledge behind the practical application that goes into producing livestock and crops to feed a growing world population. As my search for employment in the industry begins, many question why I would be chosen as an employee over traditional candidates. I’m hoping this article will answer these questions and will encourage more people from an urban background to follow suit and chose to work in the agricultural industry.

From a young age I have always had an interest in farming life. I would pester my parents to take us to the local open farm at Easter so that I could see the lambs and climb on top of the old tractors to pretend I was driving off to check my own stock (I always said I would have both beef and sheep!) At 18 I made the decision to move down south (the Midlands to many, but anywhere south of Manchester is a big journey for a northerner) to study FdSc Agriculture at Harper Adams University, with the ambition of topping-up to BSc Agriculture with Animal Science degree, which I am now doing. 

From day one I have absolutely loved every aspect of my degree, even though I have always had to do a bit of extra reading for an assignment or read around the subject more after a lecture. Some might see this as a disadvantage, but I disagree. I never go into a lecture presuming I already know the subject. I go into lectures and ask ‘why?’ I question methods; why something is done one way and not the other, therefore I am always open to hearing what other farmers do and take that on board.

To me, this is why we need more people in the industry who have chosen to study agriculture that are not from farms and I think employers need to have faith that converts to the industry can acquire as much knowledge as those who are third and fourth generation farmers. Employing someone new to the industry might introduce an alternate perspective and bring fresh young minds with innovative ideas to any business. 

When applying for jobs, I initially thought that businesses would be looking for farmers’ children or people who have worked on numerous farms with ample practical experience, but I have found this not to be the case. Not coming from farming background is my niche point of sale. It is the reason why employers stop and chat in interviews, wondering why I’ve chosen to work in this industry and what interests me the most. It could be perceived as an advantage. I am here offering a different point of view and can show more of a consumer perspective on issues that are facing farmers worldwide.

I am hoping that my positive experience of coming into agriculture from an untraditional background will encourage others similar to myself to follow suit. I have been welcomed into the industry and cannot wait to start working in it, hoping to communicate the knowledge I have acquired over my time at university with both consumers and workers in the industry.

Since starting Harper Adams I have met more people than I expected who have similar backgrounds to myself, and I am certain that this trend will continue for years to come as both farmers and “townies” work together to bring fresh new ideas into the farming industry. 

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