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Agric antics in the Toon
Panels are better than Pensions, says Minister…
Installing solar panels on roofs is a better investment than a pension, says energy minister Greg Barker. He has suggested that anyone approaching retirement should consider putting some of their savings into solar panels because they can provide a better financial return than a traditional pension. It’s hardly surprising the minister has been championing investment in solar as not only does it bring the benefit of lower electric bills, but a feed-in-tariff is also paid while any surplus energy generated can be sold back to the National Grid. We agree whole heartedly with Barker that with a guaranteed 20 year tariff and yields of up to 8%, solar PV is a “really attractive financial proposition”. However, at the TGE Group (who have been providing renewables to farmers from nearly 10 years), we think the minister may have actually undersold solar’s financial performance as many of our farming customers are receiving a typical return on investment of around 12% to 18% Meanwhile, pension annuities are down in the doldrums offering an unimpressive return of 6%... Either way, with 500,000 UK consumers currently benefiting from the three-fold financial gain that solar PV offers, the future for solar is looking very bright indeed. It's certainly worth thinking about if you are a farmer who's planning tio retire in the near future?
New entrants and barriers to a future in farming
Being an agriculture student and new entrant this is topic I'm passionate about, find out what I have to say at; agric-antics-in-the-toon.blogspot.co.uk
The final countdown
After a busy summer it was time to trek up to Newcastle for the final time. I still can't believe that this will be my final year here as it only seems like yesterday that my Mum and Dad were leaving me in my prison cell of a room in first year halls! This year I am living in a house of seven agric girls, this is obvious when you walk through our front door and see seven pairs of heels next to seven pairs of wellies! My Mum is calling us the seven dwarves... At the start of term we spent two days on a field course visiting farms of previous Newcastle agriculture students in Lancashire and Staffordshire. This gave us all the sort of boost we needed heading into third year and the motivation to knuckle down and get the most out of our final year. During the trip we visited the Mercer brothers who run their farm business (Mercer Farming), have two farms in Australia, plus Packington free range which supplies free range pork and poultry, they also had extensive diversification to show us which I found particularly interesting as this is the focus of my dissertation. Seeing what Alec Mercer and the other farmers we visited have achieved since leaving Newcastle was inspiring for all of us and reminded us of the potential opportunities we have as entrants to the industry. We were also kept very happy by the great free food, it’s definitely fair to say that the way to an agric’s heart is through their stomach! This year we choose an honours option to specialise in, I have chosen Farm Business Management and am really enjoying my modules so far which include; farm management, farm business planning and control, law and land use and estate management. On top of these compulsory modules I'm also taking optional modules in combinable crops, applied crop protection and rural enterprise diversification. I have to admit I'm not missing lectures on dairy cows...sorry dairy farmers! The fancy dress has also begun in earnest with our army/barbie agric bar crawl which saw a great turnout of cross dressing boys! I'm sure it's going to be another good year.
Poultry in motion
After optimistically taking my entire winter wardrobe home to Cornwall over Easter it’s been a chilly few weeks up in Newcastle! We have even had a brief snowfall or two, luckily they didn’t last long. Since heading back to university after Easter it’s been a busy time with assignments due in, hangovers to recover from and several field trips ranging from a visit to a mixed farm in Northumberland (beef finishers and breeding ewes), to the university farm at Cockle Park to a fish farm near Ponteland. We also visited a poultry farm recently with a mixture of both free-range and colony hens. It was interesting to see the new enriched cages and to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the two systems side by side in terms of health, welfare, productivity and profitability. It definitely challenged some of the pre-conceived ideas that I had about caged hens…and not just become I wasn’t a big fan of the free-range hens flapping at me as we walked through the sheds!! Although after being told "they may try and perch on your heads" I was quite glad to get out of the shed. As always it has been good to see what we’ve learnt in the lecture theatre put into practice in a commercial environment. At Newcastle we are lucky to have regular outside speakers come to talk to us and since Easter I have attended talks by the NFU North East Regional Director and Dr Jim Monaghan from Harper Adams on fresh produce. It is always interesting to hear what people have done after uni as it opens your eyes to opportunities you may not otherwise have considered and it is reassuring to see how many pathways there are available for agricultural students. It is also encouraging to have outside speakers come in around this time in the term when we seem to be spending unnatural amounts of time in the library revising for exams! On that note I better get back to my revision...☺
A change is as good as a rest
After another busy term at Newcastle, with highlights such as field trips (including visits to a pig farm near Driffield and a Jersey farm, plus the university farms), some good rugby matches with the Agric 1s reaching the intra mural final and the usual string of social events including the spring ball, it was time to head home to Cornwall for a rest. This rest was pretty short lived as I started work lambing. This is my third year working for the Highmoor family who farm 1000 breeding ewes near Wadebridge. The Highmoors have a flock of Swaledales, Blue Faced Leicesters and Texels plus mules. The efficiency of the family during this hectic time never ceases to amaze me, with the ewes lambing at over 200% and 2 children to look after I don’t know where they get their energy from. Originally from Yorkshire, working for the Highmoor family provided invaluable experience before heading to uni in Newcastle, not only in sheep farming but also in understanding the Yorkshire accent and sense of humour! So far the Cornish weather has been kind and we have been able to get lambs out in the sunshine. Touch wood lambs have been strong and healthy. Early starts, long days and not exactly smelling of roses means that socialising has taken a back seat which both my liver and bank balance are thankful for! Plus it’s a nice change to come home and work after being in a lecture theatre all term, although as always it is taking me a while to adjust back to the very relaxed pace of life here in Cornwall…
"So you want to be a farmer?"
During a recent conversation with a lady on the train to London from Newcastle I was once again asked the question that I am often asked when people find out what I am studying at University. I suppose a farmer seems the obvious choice and to those who aren’t involved in the agricultural industry it probably seems like the only path open for agriculture students to follow. This assumption always makes me smile as I reply that, if I’m honest, I have no idea what I really want to do when I finish uni yet, but despite the widespread panic concerning the job market and unemployment levels of graduates plus the economic situation, I’m not worried. Maybe I should be worried but I’ve never found that helps much, the way I see it there are lots of opportunities for agriculture students to do all sorts of different things, whether it’s to do with agronomy, animal nutrition, animal breeding, or farming. As the conversation continued I was asked another common question, “do you learn to drive tractors and milk cows then?” again I suppose this is a fair assumption, in reality after a broad introduction to the science behind agriculture during our first year, my current modules include subjects such as; arable crops, ruminant and non-ruminant livestock, agricultural marketing, micro-computing and data analysis and an introduction to farm management. Admittedly our course is not as hands-on as similar courses available however I don’t feel this is putting me at a disadvantage, everyone has a different experience of uni and I’m pretty happy with mine so far! In a review of places to study agriculture in Farmers Weekly, Newcastle was said to be “a little far from home if you’re from south of Leeds” coming from Cornwall I’m a good few hundred miles further south from Leeds and door to door it’s nearly 500 miles to Uni. During conversation this fact is often met with comments along the lines of, “you’re an awfully long way from home” and I know there are places closer to home that offer excellent agricultural programmes however there was only ever one place I ever wanted to go. During my train journey to London I realised how much I’ve learned both in and away from the lecture theatre since going away to uni, a couple of years ago getting trains to and from London and navigating the tube on my own would have seemed daunting but after a year and a half of flying back and forth to Newcastle on my own and enduring the 8 and a half hour train journey home, it doesn’t even cross my mind. Being at Newcastle has also provided me with opportunities to learn a new language (Geordie) and meet friends from across the country, one of my close friends coming from near Aberdeen, we have an unusual alliance being the most northern and most southern agrics, despite a good 40% of our conversation being lost in translation! Whether you want to work on the family farm or follow a different career path I can’t recommend going to university highly enough.
Time to head north!
That time has come again when I attempt to pack up as much as I can into as few suitcases as possible ready to head 500 miles up the road for another term at Newcastle. Now halfway through my second year you’d have thought I would have learned how to pack lightly. One investment I did make this year was another pair of wellies to keep in Newcastle as wearing my wellies when flying home in order to meet baggage restrictions always got some funny looks! Packing to go back to the ‘toon’ involves some essentials including; the warmest clothes I can get my hands on, a box of at least 15 Cornish pasties ready to be frozen and anything I find lying around that looks vaguely like it might come in handy for fancy dress. During my time at Newcastle so far I have dressed up in army gear, as a baby, a pig, a school girl, a zebra, a farmer, a panda, Alice in wonderland, a mum, a turkey, a dead cheerleader and a builder. The night my friends and I dressed as builders was the ‘high-viz’ themed Agric bar crawl. We decked ourselves out in high viz vests, hard hats and tool belts, which came in handy for storing drinks! As always Agric bar crawls are open to everyone, no matter what course you do. That night, however, we were joined by two more ‘mature’ students in the first pub, in the form of two (real) builders, dressed head to toe in high viz gear who had just come in for a quiet pint after work. As everyone in Newcastle knows, there’s no such thing as a quiet pint… In true Geordie style they decided to come with us on the bar crawl and eventually went home at about 3am! I can’t wait to get exams done and get out on the Toon! Happy New Year and thank you for reading my first post : )