Posted 20 August
“It’s given us a really good experience and provides a lot of life experience. Your networking skills improve, and you get to know more people, which is important in agriculture as you’ll reach a point when you pretty much know all the key people."
Cornelius Werring and Niklas Rietmann from Germany are participating in a partnership exchange between Harper Adams University and Osnabrück University of Applied Sciences which will see them graduate with two master's degrees each.
The two 26-year-old students are being sponsored by agricultural engineering companies to support them during their time completing the MRes Precision Farming programme at Harper Adams and are completing thesis projects relating to the award-winning Hands Free Hectare (HFHa) project.
AMAZONE is sponsoring Niklas while Cornelius’s sponsor is CLAAS Stiftung.
Niklas said: “We’re the first people to come via this exchange programme so it’s been a bit of a trial run.
“It’s been a lot of hard work; working on two theses and two programmes at the same time, but at the end of it we will have two master's degrees.
“For our MRes thesis projects, we’re working on elements for the HFHa project. A key focus of the exchange project is synergies. What the HFHa team and the Agri-EPI Centre Midlands Agri-Tech Innovation Hub are working on is very engineering-based; so how does the stuff work in the field, while we’re coming from the agro-economics side and looking at what it means for the farmer and the government. We’re working out how big the benefit is for the farmer; is it cheaper for him to run it in the field or not.
“For the project, I’m working on a usability study, looking at what autonomous farming concepts are available and haven’t been thought about yet and producing scenarios.
“I then put these into the programme our supervisor Professor James Lowenberg-DeBoer has been using,” said Cornelius. “He’s been working on the model over the years. I’ll hopefully get some interesting calculation results when I run them.”
Both of the students completed BEng Agri-Food Engineering and Business for the undergraduate degrees in Germany which included a mixture of economics, agricultural science and explored agricultural technologies; such as precision farming.
For their postgraduate degrees from Osnabrück University, they study one year at the university in northwest Germany, and then gain practical experience in their second year, usually with a company. Cornelius and Niklas have decided to use this year as an opportunity to study at Harper Adams, gain an additional degree and also enhance other skills.
Niklas said: “We don’t just get the experience of completing modules, or attending lectures; one big experience we get with this programme is all the organisational stuff. We have to organise the logistics of travelling between the two countries.”
Cornelius added: “This experience is really preparing us for the real world. We’re having to do things that would typically be for when you’re higher-up in the job.
“It’s given us a really good experience and provides a lot of life experience. Your networking skills improve, and you get to know more people, which is important in agriculture as you’ll reach a point when you pretty much know all the key people.
“What’s also important for us Germans,” said Niklas, “is language. You get better language skills because you speak in English, you read in English, you listen to English in the modules and you have to write your assignments in English. It’s really important.”
On the importance of the exchange programme, Dr Lowenberg-DeBoer said: “Students like Niklas and Cornelius create an opportunity for the cross fertilization of research in crop robotics between Osnabrück and Harper Adams.
“Osnabrück has more work on specially designed weeding and scouting robots, while Harper has more work on retrofitting conventional equipment.
“Harper Adams can reinforce the Osnabrück research in the economics of crop robotics. Also, the legal and regulatory environment for crop robots is somewhat different in Germany and the students are exploring the implications of those differences.”