Farming careers: Retail agricultural development manager

Agriculture offers a diverse range of jobs in the food supply chain and the retail sector has many career options for people with agricultural experience and qualifications.

Will Jackson has a dairy farming background and studied business and management at university.

He was able to put his experience and background to good use at Co-operative Food as agricultural development manager for beef and lamb.

He explains what his job entails and how he came to work in the food industry.

Will Jackson

Will Jackson, agricultural development manager for beef and lamb at The Co-operative Food

What do you do?

My role is agricultural development manager for beef and lamb and I have been with Co-operative Food for 10 months.

Most of my time is spent ensuring that the link between the farm and when the animals are slaughtered is upheld.

This means regular contact with the 60 beef and 20 sheep farmers in our farming groups, and also with the processors who supply products into The Co-operative.

There is a particular focus on animal welfare and making sure the product that is in our stores is of the highest possible quality.

What’s your background?

I grew up on a dairy farm in Derbyshire, where we milked about 140 cows until about eight years ago. I worked for my dad on the farm for a year or so milking cows before I went to university.

My first job was in warehousing and distribution as a cold store manager, but for the four-and-a-half years before joining Co-operative Food I worked at Arla Foods.

I was the day-to-day contact for about 300 dairy farmers.

What did you study?

Business and management at the University of Northumbria.

What do you tell people about your job if you meet someone new?

That I have a great job with a lot of variety, and how much I enjoy my job because it is challenging and keeps me on my toes. I am also proud of the job I am doing.

If you had asked me 10 years ago I wouldn’t have thought that this would be what I would be doing – it’s funny how things turn out.

Do you think there are misconceptions about what it is like to work for a major retailer?

I think there are lots of misconceptions about working for a retailer and this is especially true among farmers where I think a lot of the time retailers are seen as knowing nothing at all about farming.

In our case this couldn’t be further from the truth; we have a team that have all grown up in and around farming and worked within all aspects of the supply chain.

This helps us really understand what the issues are.

There can be tensions between supermarkets and farmer suppliers – to what extent do you feel that in your day-to-day working life?

From time to time tensions do come up, but managing those situations is a large part of my job.

Building relationships and communicating is really important in the agriculture industry; it’s key to help everyone understand what is being done and the reasons behind the decisions.

I would say that most of the time the communication is good and we have great relationships with our supplying farmers.

We are very keen to work together for the benefit of everyone in the supply chain.

Do you think more people should consider jobs in the food industry, and why?

Yes I do. Some of the time people don’t know the jobs that are available. I know when I was working at home on the farm I had no idea that the job that I am doing now existed.

I think that jobs in the food sector are very rewarding and you can really see the benefits of what you do.

How do you think your job compares to those of your friends?

I am the only one of my friends who works in the food industry and I think that I am the one with the best job satisfaction – with the exception of one who works at a football club!

I do work hard, however I know that this will lead to opportunities for me to progress.

I think it’s tough to find a job that gives you real satisfaction and makes you want to get up every morning and that is what this job gives me.

Co-operative facts

Will Jackson with colleague Harriet Wilson

Will Jackson with colleague Harriet Wilson

How many people does the company employ?

The Co-operative Group employs 70,000 people across its different businesses.

What are the key recruitment areas?

Roles include agriculture, commercial, technical and logistics.

Any minimum qualifications?

Entirely dependent on the role.

How many people does it take on a year?

The Agri team has an undergraduate placement – currently Jess Simms from Harper Adams who is with the company for 12 months – but it is now looking for someone to take over from Jess in July 2016.

Where can people find out more details about the schemes?

Does it employ people from non-farming backgrounds?

Yes – many.