Farming careers: Working as an ag business change officer

Agricultural careers are not just about driving tractors or tending to livestock but include a variety of professional roles. We talk to the business change officer at Farmcare about what makes her job different.

Katrina Swatton might one day change your life – or perhaps more accurately the way you farm.

See also: How experience outside farming improves your agricultural career

The role

She has the intriguing title of business change officer and works for Farmcare, which operates across more than 50,000 acres, making it the largest farming business in the country.

Her role is an unusual but exciting one. She is responsible for managing a range of innovative projects that ultimately should contribute to increased efficiencies and test ways to improve farming methods and land management.

It’s a varied job that includes managing on-farm trials, supporting colleagues with their project work, liaising with researchers and scientists and helping to apply the latest developments in technology in a practical setting.

Katrina Swatton, business change officer at Farmcare

Katrina Swatton, business change officer at Farmcare

Katrina describes her job as project management with a difference. She has responsibility for developing and delivering innovation projects for the business.

“As modern technology progresses there are more opportunities and new ways of doing things in the industry. I get to look at the latest research and technology and look at ways to apply it.”

Non-farming background

Growing up, Katrina loved the countryside but did not dream of working in agriculture. Her father spent many years working for the Bank of England and then ran a golf club, and her mother was a professional dancer. The nearest she got to a tractor was a ride-on lawn mower.

Initially, she thought about becoming a vet. but after working during the school holidays on some mixed farms in her home county of East Sussex, she saw that agriculture offered her everything she wanted in a career.

Route into the job

Katrina was always interested in food technology, geography and biology, as well as the idea of working outside, so she applied to study agriculture at the University of Nottingham.

She was accepted on to the Farmcare graduate trainee management programme in 2011, when the business was still owned by the Co-operative Group.

She worked on a series of the company’s farms over a two-year period, including a top fruit farm in Kent and a soft fruit farm near Dundee.

Skills needed for the job

  • Degree in agriculture or bioscience or a qualification in project management, alongside a keen interest in the farming industry
  • Strong organisational skills, particularly planning and time management
  • Good communication skills
  • Patience as research projects can be a long process

She also spent time with the technical team at the Co-op learning more about the retail operation and even visited Spain to learn about salad growing and the challenges facing growers there.

When she was approached to join the business change team, set up after the organisation was taken over by the Wellcome Trust in 2014, she leapt at it.

Currently she is working on projects involving crop health, soil nutrition and how technology can be used in apple orchards to improve yield forecasting.

Typical working week

Katrina’s  current role involves a mix of desk-based time and working outside.

While she is technically home-based, she spends about two days a week at Farmcare’s flagship 1,800ha farm at Stoughton near Leicester.

The on-farm experience helps her to understand what issues are being faced at the ground level.

The farm grows wheat, barley, oilseed rape and oats and is also in Higher Level Stewardship, so the need to balance being commercially viable and environmentally sensitive is important. 

She can also spend another day or two a week attending industry events or meetings associated with the projects she co-ordinates.

Advice on a career in farming

Her advice to anyone considering a career in the sector is just to ‘go for it’.

She believes some people may be put off because they have the misconception that everyone working in farming is male, older and comes from a farming background. But she hopes she can help change that.

“Hopefully, I can prove that wrong. I’m a young female in the farming industry doing a job I never knew existed. I think we can also show that agriculture is a lot more ‘techy’ and much cooler than many people first think.”

Farmcare’s estate is now managed by Bidwells