All three finalists display a relentless work ethic and determination to help solve the challenges facing British farming.
They have the practical knowledge, passion and confidence to inspire the next generation of farmers and help the industry move forward.
- Chloe Gimson
- John Halton
Rathmolyon, County Meath
- Jessica Langton
Langley Mill, Derbyshire
- Grace Welling
2020 Ag Student of the Year
- Ed Henderson
Farmers Weekly’s news reporter
- Alex Dunn
Independent judge and farm manager
Inspired by years of work on her family’s outdoor pig farm in Suffolk, Chloe Gimson has always had her sights set on a career in agriculture.
A gap year crammed full of lambing, grain testing and potato sampling demonstrates a willingness to learn, which has shown no sign of diminishing throughout her time at Harper Adams University.
The hard work has paid off, as Chloe will soon start her job at Savills on their food and farming graduate scheme.
“I have always pushed myself to be the best I can, not just in my degree but in all aspects of my life, such as involving myself in agricultural organisations and committing myself to promoting British agriculture,” she says.
Chloe admits her biggest challenge at university was getting the first-year results she needed to transfer from her foundation course to BSc Agriculture with Farm Business Management.
“I knew that first year was going to count. So I had to be good at managing my social life and working hard as well,” she says.
Since then, Chloe hasn’t looked back and went on to receive the Staffordshire and Birmingham Agricultural Society Scholarship and the Harper Adams Club President’s Scholarship.
Perhaps the best example of Chloe’s steely determination was overcoming prejudice she experienced during her placement year at a poultry company.
“I often undertook catching audits by myself during the night and occasionally came up against prejudice due to my age and gender.”
Chloe stuck to her guns when workers questioned her authority and she gained the respect her diligence and ability warranted.
As a proud member of Ladies in Pigs, Chloe is passionate about promoting British pork at events, school visits and education days across the country.
She has been heavily involved in helping to rebrand the organisation, creating media content and sprucing up the mobile kitchen that tours the UK.
Helping revitalise Soham Young Farmers’ Club demonstrates Chloe’s ability to take on responsibility and make a positive difference.
Motivating other members to help drive recruitment and organising events, such as muck hauls and a welly ball, helped put the club back in the green, after years of losses.
“From this increased membership and improved club profit, we were awarded the prize for the most efficient club in the county,” Chloe says.
Chloe has a particular interest in farm labour and how best to manage and motivate workers in order to help their personal development, which in turn will be positive for businesses, she says.
“Staff retention and motivation is often overlooked within the industry but is key to farm success.” Chloe says the industry needs to be ready for change, as agriculture becomes more reliant on technology.
“The mindset of those who work within the industry will be critical. It is an exciting but challenging time.”
Chloe’s university dissertation investigated the impact labour has on the performance of outdoor pig breeding units.
This included analysis of the soft skills of the stockperson, including empathy, observation, anticipation and planning and communication.
Chloe is preparing for her graduate job at Savills, where she hopes to impress and establish herself as an agri-business consultant, building up her own stable of clients.
“My ambition is to progress through the company up to director level. I hope to achieve this by remaining dedicated to my field of work and grasping any opportunities.”
What the judges say
Chloe is confident and willing to take responsibility. She is a real team player and wants to help people succeed, evident in her brilliant work with Ladies in Pigs and her Young Farmers’ Club.”
What the judges liked
- Confident and willing to take responsibility
- Determination to make a difference through work with Ladies in Pigs – member of the National Executive Committee as well as the secretary of the East Anglia region
- Team player who will give her all and help others around her shine
- Impressive entrepreneur with business know-how, as shown by her crafts business set up when she was just 11
- Resilient and confident, with a determination to do a job properly – as shown on a poultry placement when questioned by workers while carrying out audits
- Studying at: Harper Adams University
- Course: Agriculture with Farm Business Management
- Study year: Fourth
- Fun fact: Chloe runs her own craft business, making and selling greetings cards, gift tags and notelets. The designs all have a country or agricultural theme. See her work on Instagram @chloescreativecrafts_
Rathmolyon, County Meath
Spend more than a few minutes talking to John Halton and it is hard not to be impressed by his passion for dairy farming, no doubt inspired by his childhood on the family farm just 25km from Dublin, Ireland.
Eager to expand his knowledge, John left home to study at Harper Adams University.
He embraced the opportunity to learn about farming in England and threw himself into university life, always focused on how he could take what he learned back to Ireland.
Now, he is helping manage the herd at Ballydoogan Dairy in Westmeath, about 50 minutes from his family farm.
Overcoming homesickness and dyslexia to complete his degree at Harper Adams is testament to John’s resilience and strong character.
During his time in England, John completed a work placement at Dale Farming in Cheshire. “It was a very interesting farm to work on; it gave me an insight into a low-input system,” he says.
His final-year dissertation analysed the best breeds for organic dairy farming in Ireland.
“I wanted to research which was the best breed for the farm based on location, increased yield and improved profitability and management.
“I found that Montbeliarde would be ideal if we decided to go organic.”
Described by his tutors as unflappable, John was a natural course rep and helped iron out any issues his peers had.
When the coronavirus pandemic took hold in March last year, John started using social media platform TikTok to talk about dairy farming.
It turns out he is a natural presenter, and he credits the process with improving his confidence.
“It led to me posting educational videos about farming, discussing different farming methods from the UK and Ireland, as well as what we do on the farm when I return home from university.”
John believes that social media is a key to farmers engaging with the public and showing them how their food is produced. Nearly 16,000 people tune in to watch his videos.
“I wanted to promote agriculture and talk about its issues. One of my best was a two-part video on how to treat mastitis – I’m pretty sure very few people outside of agriculture would have heard of mastitis,” says John.
“That got very good views and people asking questions, as well as farmers talking about how they treat mastitis.”
A passion for politics is driving him to set up an agricultural development board to help farmers in Ireland.
“I have been interested in politics since I was a child. I am working to get anaerobic digesters in Ireland, and to set up grants and better premiums to have more sustainability in agriculture in Ireland,” he says.
John is relishing the responsibility of managing a team of staff at Ballydoogan Dairy and plans to work there to gain more experience, but still keeps an eye on what is happening on the family farm.
In the future, he aspires to take over from his parents and increase cow yield using a partially indoor system.
The Haltons milk 150 pedigree Holsteins. “We are progressive and have bought more land recently so our system needs to be profitable,” John says.
“I am so passionate about Holstein cows and would like to get into showing, if I can find the time.”
The young farmer says he has never listened to people who said he would not reach university, or that is goals are too ambitious. Instead, he is busy proving them wrong.
What the judges say
John shows real passion for dairy farming. He wanted to continue learning so left home to study at university in England, where his approachable and calm manner made him an ideal course rep.”
The judges liked
- Personable, calm nature and a good communicator
- Not afraid to innovate and question ways of working
- Passion for all things dairy – a brilliant advocate for the sector
- His passion for politics and drive to set up a development board to help farmers become more sustainable and reduce carbon emissions
- Brilliant work to educate consumers about farming through social media – John’s TikTok account is racing towards 20,000 followers
- A commitment to help the family farm in Ireland become more efficient aspirations run it himself in the future
- Studying at: Harper Adams University
- Course: Agriculture
- Study year: Third
- Fun fact: John won an All-Ireland and Leinster medal for track and cross-country running. He credits his training with helping to build resilience and determination, by pushing himself to finish when the going gets tough
Langley Mill, Derbyshire
Blink, and you are likely to miss Jess Langton, who has so much on her plate, it is plausible to think she has worked out how to defy time.
This farming tour de force has only just finished her second year at the University of Nottingham, but is already achieving so much.
Alongside her studies and helping to run the family dairy farm in Derbyshire, Jess works for Genus ABS, is an ambassador for the British Society of Animal Science and a regular attendee of the Derbyshire Holstein Young Breeders Club.
She is also an excursions officer for her university agriculture society and a plant scientist on a Nottingham project looking at reducing methane emissions by feeding ruminants seaweed.
She is also runner-up of this year’s RABDF Dairy Student of the Year award, and will soon join the NFU Dairy Board.
Inspired by her interest in bovine genetics and the work on her family farm to change the breeding strategy to boost constituents, Jess decided to study Animal Science.
She was quick to realise she needed to increase her business know-how, to complement the genetic and physiology modules on her degree.
Jess earned a place on the coveted Witty Scholarship at the University of Nottingham, which taught her all about leadership, innovation and entrepreneurship.
Jess says she was devastated by the death of her granddad, Russell, just before her 19th birthday. She describes him as a father figure.
“My dad left when I was two, so he filled that role for a long time. It was a big thing for me and it broke me down completely.”
She took a gap year to run the farm and support her mum.
“It was really difficult going from just being the granddaughter that gets up to milk the cows to having to learn all the business side of things.
“But I was really lucky that First Milk sponsored me to go on the RABDF Entrepreneurs in Dairying programme, which went through people management, finance, tax, and that was key to helping me.”
Now, the 21-year-old is working with the Farming Community Network (FCN) to help address poor mental health in rural areas.
“I wanted to give back to my community. I’ve got many ambitions and the first one is to start with the helpline. I then want to deliver the rural plus module to young farmers.
“I want to teach the younger people how to recognise poor mental health, how to support other individuals and how to protect their own mental wellbeing.”
Jess has only just started her FCN training but already has ambitions to do some fundraising, and eventually she would like to get involved with case work by visiting farms.
“I am currently training for a half marathon in September to raise money for vets in the community in Nottingham, and I am hoping to do a half marathon in the future for FCN.”
The young farmer says she wants to be an ambassador for women in agriculture and help anyone trying to break into the industry.
Jess has her sights set on a PhD, specialising in bovine genetics or sustainable agriculture.
She is unfazed by how she will keep up with all her commitments, but does concede a part-time course probably suits her best.
“Five years ago, I wouldn’t have believed a career in agriculture was possible for me, being a woman and constantly not feeling confident enough. Now I can’t wait to see what the future holds.”
Jess has relished the responsibility of being a course rep and says it has helped hone her leadership skills.
What the judges say
Jess’s energy, enthusiasm and technical knowledge make her a great ambassador for British agriculture. She has overcome personal tragedy and is working with the FCN to address poor mental health in the industry.”
The judges liked
- Commitment to mental health in farming – joining the FCN and working on its rural helpline, as well as delivering mental health support training to young farmers
- Good time management to successfully juggle university, farm work and part-time role at Genus ABS, on top of ambassador work and other farm group commitments
- Determination to be ambassador for women in agriculture
- Ambition to help the dairy sector move towards a more sustainable future. As part of her work for the NFU Dairy Board, Jess says she wants to map a route for the sector to reduce methane emissions
- Studying at: University of Nottingham
- Course: Animal Science
- Study year: Second
- Fun fact: Jess has recently signed up to the Farmer Time initiative, which links a farmer with a school. She uses video calls to tell the children all about her family’s farm and how food is produced
“NSF is proud to sponsor the Ag Student of the Year award. We are committed to the future of British agriculture and that future lies in the hands of the next generation of British farmers.”
Janatha Stout, associate director, agriculture operations, NSF