Scottish Agronomy develops the future of arable farming expertise in Scotland

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Every summer, Scottish Agronomy, recruits four students to its trials team to help over the busy harvest period.

As well as giving the cooperative valuable support during its peak period, this gives students, from all disciplines, an insight into agronomy at the cutting edge of trials that are shaping UK growing as well as sparking an interest in the career opportunities available. It has proved an important pipeline of talent for Scottish Agronomy with many students becoming full-time employees after completing their degree.

Adam Christie, managing director of Scottish Agronomy, the 250-strong farmer cooperative, says: “We’re committed to continually developing our team to stay relevant in this ever-changing environment and to create experts for the future. This is critical so that we can continue to provide a strong, knowledgeable service to our members. The selection and recruitment of good people is key, and a very successful way to do this has been to employ four students each summer to join the trials team for the harvest, many of whom return to become part of the growing team.”

Opportunity to know the industry

Successful applicants participate in all aspects of the extensive network of field trials in Scotland, which includes over 20,000 trial plots. This gives them an opportunity to get to know the industry and learn about practical crop research methods, and enhance their soft skills like teamwork, resilience, and problem-solving.

“Not only is it a great help to Scottish Agronomy at the busiest time of year, but it is also an opportunity for students to gain valuable experience and knowledge in the field. This experience not only exposes students to a wealth of learning but also highlights many career paths in the industry, such as plant breeding, crop protection, or agronomy,” adds Mr Christie.

Caitlin Ritchie was a summer student in 2022 and enjoyed the chance to get involved with such a variety of tasks. Summing up her experience, she says: “I gained a range of new experiences and skills and learned more about the technical side of arable farming. Throughout the summer I learned how the team assessed crop characteristics like standing power and how they score the crops for diseases.”

Like many others before her, Caitlin secured a permanent position with Scottish Agronomy when she completed her studies. After spending the winter gaining further training and development from senior staff, she is now a Trials Officer able to make a valuable contribution to the busy and dynamic team.

As a student taking a break from her business degree during summer, Emma Hamilton jumped at the opportunity to work with the team at harvest time. She already had an interest in agriculture, but the experience made her determined to pursue a career in the sector. When a job opportunity opened up she applied immediately: “Since my return in 2020, I have become involved in data processing at Scottish Agronomy, particularly in the Potato Trials. From going out to assess them, processing the raw data to digging them, and creating the end-of-year reports, I’ve been involved with the whole process.”

Alistair Imlay began his career at Scottish Agronomy during his university studies. He chose to spend four summers helping with the harvest and hasn’t looked back since. Recently promoted to senior trials officer he is excited about new responsibilities organising grain samples and ensuring all the required testing is expedited. He would like to learn more about analysis of the crop trials data and how that can be translated into effective advice for farmers.

Scottish Agronomy trials manager, Douglas Drysdale, says it has been an effective way to find team members with a genuine passion for trials work, and all it involves: “We have a track record of students returning to work with us at harvest time over consecutive years and then joining us permanenty. It’s rewarding to see the development of individuals in our organisation, many of our senior staff started as summer students helping with harvest and discovered a passion for agricultural research.”

Scottish Agronomy was set up in 2005 by a group of progressive arable farmers with a mission to help growers find their own crop solutions. Over the years, the technical expertise, industry relationships, and focus on practical, sustainable, and value-centred solutions has taken the coop from strength to strength. It continues to successfully develop its personnel in an unpredictable climate and is growing the next generation of specialists, and the organisation’s commitment to continually developing its teams and providing opportunities for young people will help shape the future of arable farming expertise in Scotland.

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