Grace Welling, winner of the Farmers Weekly Agricultural Student of the Year Award 2020, went from Harpers Adams University to a full-time job at Germinal as a product development officer.
She explains how she went about gaining the experience to put herself in prime position to land the role and gives her tips on getting on in a career in agriculture.
Grace had originally intended to pursue a career involving broad-acre arable crops, but the more she saw of grass and forage, the more she realised how much it fascinated her.
“I was going to study geography at uni, but when it got to point of applying, I realised I wanted to work in agriculture, so it made sense to specialise at that point.
“The placement scheme at Harper was a big factor too – that’s an incredible opportunity to work with industry-leading firms.”
Tip: Enjoy it
“The best bit of advice I was ever given in terms of how to approach uni is that there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be equally well known in the bar as in the library.
“Basically, enjoy all aspects of university life. Ag students are very good at studying all day, then dancing in the bar all night!”
At university Grace applied for a placement at Syngenta and clearly recalls her interview.
Candidates had to do a presentation on a non-agricultural topic and she chose to take a risk.
Having decided to talk about tug-of-war, she asked one of the interviewers to balance her weight while she demonstrated a good tug-of-war stance.
“I was convinced I hadn’t got the job because the guy almost went head over heels,” laughs Grace.
“But they later told me they really liked it because it was different and because my passion for the sport really came across.”
Tip: Show passion
“I’ve been really lucky,” concludes Grace. “I’ve never had a job I haven’t enjoyed. It’s important to choose a career you’re really passionate about. You’ll do far better in it if you are.”
Graduation and new job
Grace graduated in 2020 with a degree in Agriculture with Crop Management from Harper Adams University and netted a permanent position as a herbage seed production and product development officer with Germinal.
“I’m not particularly good at interviews – I tend to over-talk if I’m nervous, but I did as much research as I could about different grasses and Germinal’s products,” she says.
The 23-year-old now has a varied working day, spanning sales, seed production and trials. “I absolutely love it,” she says.
“Grass can be part of the solution to climate change – not part of the problem – and there’s not many industries that can help solve one of society’s biggest problems.”
Tip: Show enthusiasm
Grace thinks that her enthusiasm to try new things and her knowledge of a broad range of industry issues affecting the firm helped secure her the job.
“Ultimately, what’s really important is proving your passion for the area the firm is involved in.”
In her first year in the workplace, she’s really seen how enthusiasm and preparedness to try new things are important.
“Volunteer,” she advises. “Say ‘yes’ to everything. You may feel nervous, but the more enthusiastic you are, the more employers will give you opportunities and responsibility.
“Having a friendly disposition is important, too – it helps you bond with your colleagues, and if you get on with the people you work with, they’re more likely to help you out if you need it.
“The more people trust you, the more likely they are to give you responsibility, too.”
Having finished her Facts training, Grace starts her Basis in April and is keen to get the qualification under her belt. This will enable her to give advice as well as provide a broader spectrum of knowledge.
“I work in a niche area, but however specialised you are, farm consultants still need to be able to see the bigger picture.
“You have to be able to see agronomy within the context of, for example, the different technologies available or pest biology. It’s about a whole-farm plan.”
Tip: Keep learning
A believer in lifelong learning, Grace even keeps a weed portfolio. “Whenever I see a weed I don’t recognise, I take a photo of it on my phone, figure out what it is and save it.
“My other half, who’s an agricultural engineer, finds it hard to understand how I can get as excited about weeds as I do!”
Young Farmers’ Club
Outside or work, Grace is set to become Hampshire Federation chair in September and was involved in launching a tug-of-war team within the county.
“We got absolutely annihilated when we first went to South East Area competitions, but it was amazing fun and we got better.
“To start with, I was quaking in my boots about taking part in public-speaking competitions, but it can be a great laugh and not all of them are ultra-high pressure. YFC is great for giving you life skills.
Tip: Get a range of experience
She reckons getting a range of work experience is invaluable for a CV, whether it’s on-farm or in a tertiary industry, and highlights how joining a Young Farmers’ Club (YFC) – something she did at the age of 10 – can open doors.
Enter Farmers Weekly Awards 2021
The 2021 Farmers Weekly Ag Student of the Year Award is sponsored by NSF International.
Join Farmers Weekly in celebrating the farming industry and recognising the hard work of UK farmers and enter the Awards today.
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For more information about the 2021 Farmers Weekly Awards, visit the official website.