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Skills shortage in lucrative sector for UK scientists

Posted 3 June 2009

The need for UK food production to dramatically increase while reducing the impact of farming on the environment has led to a drastic shortage of British agronomists.

As a result, positions in this sector, which combines biology, chemistry, ecology, earth science, and genetics, are both plentiful and bountiful. Yet many young scientists are unaware that this avenue is open to them.

“Agronomy is about so much more than just using the right fertilisers,” says Dr Matthew Back from Harper Adams University College, the UK’s leading HE specialist for the rural sector. “It’s about the management of farmland to increase yield while minimising the impact on people, biodiversity and the environment.”

Emma Tappin, the Postgraduate Courses Manager at University College suggests there is an abundance of applied scientists out there who could have an incredibly rewarding career in agronomy.

While land-based graduates are already making the leap, Emma hopes a wider field of recruits will join them on the new postgraduate Crop Protection and Agronomy course at Harper Adams.

“Geography, biology and many other science students set to graduate this summer, or scientists looking to take a new direction, would be welcome to apply for this course, which will leave them fully qualified to take one of the many excellent agronomy positions available.”

Leading agronomy company Masstock is all too aware of the developing skills shortage, and is taking a major step to make sure it gets top recruits.

Masstock is sponsoring a place on the MSc course, starting this autumn. Full fees will be paid and the Masstock Scholar will gain employment with the company upon completion of the course.

All students accepted onto the course may apply for the scholarship.

Former Harper student Chris Lowe already works for the firm as an agronomist. He said: “I look after about 10,000 acres of crops including wheat, barley, oilseed rape, fodder beet, maize and lupins. In addition I am the co-ordinator of one of Masstock's network of Smart farms where the extensive research and development carried out by the company is brought to farm level.

“I’d say to anyone considering doing a postgraduate qualification to go for it. So many people have first degree these days that it’s worth making yourself stand out.

"In my area, agronomy, the opportunities are massive at the moment. The same could be said for any career in food production, so it’s worth doing all you can to get your foot in the door.”

For more information about postgraduate courses at Harper Adams, in Shropshire, visit www.harper-adams.ac.uk/postgraduate or call Kreseda Smith, Taught Postgraduate Courses Administrator, on 01952 815289.

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