What we learned from being part of Farmers Apprentice

Later this year, 10 young people from across the UK will be invited to the toughest job application in farming: Farmers Apprentice.

We’re looking for young farmers and would-be farmers keen to kick-start their careers in agriculture to join us at bootcamp. 

So if you are 18 to 25 years old, have determination in spades and are passionate about agriculture, Farmers Apprentice could give your farming ambitions just the boost they deserve. 

Farmers Weekly catches up with previous winners of the competition for the lowdown on the personal and professional benefits of getting involved.

See also: Farmers Apprentice: Search is on for ag’s brightest and best

What is Farmers Apprentice?

It is a competition open to all ambitious 18- to 25-year-olds who want to pursue a career in farming, food or any of the ancillary industries. Farmers Weekly partners with leading companies to run the initiative.

It traditionally culminates in 10 competitors battling it out at bootcamp, which, in 2020, we hope to stage at Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) later in the year.

You could win £10,000
Yep, that’s right, the winner of this coveted title will go home with £10,000 to spend on furthering their agricultural education or business.

Taking part is an invaluable experience, too, and will help you expand your knowledge, hone your skills, improve your CV, build your contacts – and have a lot of fun.

How to enter
Go to farmersapprentice.co.uk and convince us – in 500 words or less – that we should shortlist you to take part in bootcamp. The deadline for entries is 28 June. The finalists will be notified in July.

Coronavirus situation
Farmers Weekly, Massey Ferguson and SRUC are committed to acting responsibly in relation to coronavirus, so will make a decision nearer the time, based on government advice, as to whether it’s safe and responsible to run the bootcamp which has traditionally marked the culmination of the Apprentice competition.

Sam Coote 

Sam Coote

Sam Coote

Sam spent the summer after his Apprentice win working on farms to bank some cash, then headed to New Zealand.

Working on a beef and sheep farm on South Island proved to be an “unforgettable” year and a great learning experience for the former Askham Bryan student.

“I got so much out of it,” he says. “I was pretty much running one farm and looking after 1,400 sheep at lambing time.

“It was a big responsibility and a very different system to the ones I’d seen at home, so it made me ask lots of questions and challenge why we do what we do in the UK.”

The 24-year-old is now teaching agricultural topics at East Durham College’s Houghall Campus.

“I’m really enjoying lecturing and it’s helping me gain a different skill set, particularly in terms of people skills, but in the long-term I’m as passionate as ever about farming in my own right.

“I keep saving money, adding it to the prize money from the Apprentice, so one day I can hopefully buy a bit of land.

“Obviously, land is very expensive so I’d also consider going down the Farm Business Tenancy route if I could get one.

“When I entered the Apprentice, I didn’t think I’d even get picked, let alone win, but I learned a huge amount from the experience.

“Taking part is great for your CV. I wasn’t the most confident youngster, but taking part in the Apprentice really helped build my confidence, too.”

Application tip
“Be yourself and be proud of who you are and what you do.”

One thing candidates should remember to take to bootcamp?
“A good sense of humour.”

Joe Weston

Jow Weston

Joe Weston

Joe returned to his home county of Yorkshire in September 2018 when he netted a role with the potato supplier, packer and grower RS Cockerill.

His job as a fieldsman involves doing everything from working with growers and liaising with factories to managing crops in store and trading potatoes.

“The year I did the Apprentice, the prize was the chance to work for a year as an intern with Farmcare, and while I was there I got an insight into the potato business and realised how interesting it was,” he says.

For Joe, who had been working as a retail operations manager in a bike shop, taking part in the 2016 contest was a brilliant way to build a foundation of knowledge and experience in farming – and it’s still proving useful now.

“I was thrown in at the deep end, but I’m so glad I chose to make my career in agriculture. Regardless of what happens in the world, people have to eat and farming has a key role to play helping tackle some of the big global changes such as climate change.

“There’s a real sense of job satisfaction that comes from knowing you’re part of such an important industry.

“Applying for Farmers Apprentice was one of the best things I ever did,” he says. “One thing I learned from the experience is how important it is to push yourself outside your comfort zone because that’s the only way you’re ever going to learn what you’re truly capable of.”

Application tip
“Get someone to help filming and editing your clip. Let them concentrate on where the camera’s pointed and the lighting and sound, so you can concentrate entirely on what you’re doing and saying.”

One thing candidates should remember to take to bootcamp?
“A pen and pocket-sized notepad.”

Will Hinton 

Will Hinton

Will Hinton

Will Hinton has established an exciting new life in New Zealand since winning the 2014 Farmers Apprentice.

He’s a financial adviser and consultant for the agribusiness management company FarmRight.

“It was hard to give up full-time shearing because that gave me the chance to keep extremely fit and travel the world, but I really enjoy this role,” he says.

“In tandem with this, my partner and I are also going contract milking, taking on a small farm of 150 cows which we will run together.

“I’m fine-tuning my knowledge about pasture and cows, as well as budgeting, balance sheets and profit and loss. This knowledge will be fantastically useful if and when I do get the opportunity to buy a farm, which has always been my dream.

“My partner and I now have a son who is two years old and farming-mad so it’s fantastic to be able to see him grow up and spend quality time together as a family.

“I will always remember the last day of bootcamp. We were all mentally and physically exhausted and several of us had done an all-nighter ensuring our business proposals were perfect.

“I remember how, afterwards, we were all called into the main hall and the camera crew began reorganising everyone’s places so I realised the winner was going to be announced. My heart was in my mouth, with the nerves and excitement.”

Will says one of the biggest benefits he drew from Farmers Apprentice was learning to believe in himself.

“I’d struggled with this for many years, but the judges really did help me in this respect. We all doubt ourselves occasionally, but I am a lot better at making important decisions now and thinking on my feet.”

Application tip
“Explain about your ‘journey’ – what got you into farming, what you have achieved and your five-and 10-year goals.”

One thing candidates should remember to take to bootcamp?
“A John Nix Pocketbook.”

George Brown 

George Brown

George Brown

George achieved a lifelong ambition last December when he entered into a joint venture with a big dairy herd.

The contract farming agreement in Hampshire sees the 29-year-old provide the machinery, labour and about a third of the stock, while the estate owner provides the land, the fixed assets and the remainder of the cows.

“This was my dream when I entered the Apprentice all those years ago,” says George, who won first prize in the inaugural competition in 2012. “I’m incredibly lucky.

“I really enjoy problem solving and that’s what you do in farming every day. Life is full of new challenges which is good because I’m one of those people who wants – and needs – to be challenged.

“The aim, ultimately, is to have 400 autumn-calving and 200 spring-calving cows.

“I also get to do the things which, as someone who doesn’t come from a farming background, attracted me to a career in agriculture in the first place, which I try not to ever take for granted.

I get to work with animals and to be outside – I’m even able to take my dogs to work!”

Cambridge University graduate George spent two years in New Zealand after winning the title.

When he returned, he invested his prize money in his own dairy animals while working as a farm manager in Cumbria, later selling them and reinvesting the profits in more stock while running a herd in Warwickshire.

“The Apprentice gave me a huge step up on to the first rung of the ladder,” he says.

Application tip
“When you enter, you probably won’t have all the skills or the knowledge, so enthusiasm is crucial.”

One thing candidates should remember to take to bootcamp?
“A calculator.”

Farmers Apprentice is sponsored by:

Massey Ferguson SRUC

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