What makes an ag student an award winner?

Jess Langton, Farmers Weekly’s Ag Student of the Year 2021, excels at juggling her agricultural academic interests and her farming career.

Alongside her Animal Science degree at the University of Nottingham, she’s worked as a reproductive management specialist for Genus ABS while playing a key role on the 60ha family farm in Derbyshire. 

See also: FW Awards 2021 winners share their plans for the new year

She is also an NFU Student and Young Farm Ambassador, sits on the NFU Dairy Board and is also a Farming Community Network volunteer.

“You’ve got to take every opportunity presented to you,” says Jess. 

“In 2020, I took part in Farmers Weekly’s Farmers Apprentice competition, which broadened my horizons and helped me see the bigger picture in terms of how diverse the range of careers in agriculture is.

“It was really enjoyable and gave me the confidence to take part in other things.”


Some careers can be quite narrow, but the farming industry is so varied that you can define the area in which you want to specialise, then make a name for yourself in that area, she suggests.

“You need to have some understanding of the big picture, but then really work to develop your own niche. You’ve got to identify your USP and lean into it.”

Alongside her involvement in the family’s 100-cow holding, and interest in livestock breeding and genetics, Jess is keen to become an advocate for agriculture.

“Coming from a small family farm, I passionately believe it’s not the size of the farm that matters, but how it’s run.

“There’s a place for farms of all sizes, but small farms are part of the fabric of the countryside and have hugely high standards in terms of welfare and the environment.

“They’re vital and we have to ensure they have a future. They are the backbone of farming.

“Customers want to be able to link their pint of milk to the stories of the people and families who produce it.”

Jess is keen to further her academic career and is planning to begin a PhD at Nottingham this summer, exploring how farmers feel about technologies designed to improve rumen health. 

With so many people studying degrees these days, having a PhD will further differentiate her CV and allow her to drill down into a topic that fascinates her.

“As you go through a degree, you can get more specialised, so the more interesting it becomes and the more enjoyable it is. This culminates in the final year with your dissertation, and now I’m looking forward to getting my teeth into a PhD.”

Studying in the city

The pandemic inevitably affected her student experience, beginning while she was only partway through her first year, but she doesn’t for a moment regret going to university.

“It’s a great way of bridging the gap between being at college and doing A-levels and entering the ‘real’ world.

“A lot of people, probably myself included, can be a bit naive when we finish school, especially if you’ve grown up on a farm that’s quite isolated. Uni is a great stepping-stone.”

Jess also recommends opting for a city university. “I love the practical aspects of farming but I’m also interested in science and research, and Nottingham has a great academic reputation.

“Being there allowed me to stay at home and milk cows, which was important because my grandad had died about six months before I started uni. I didn’t want to move far away after that because he’d been such an important part of the farm. 

“A big city uni with its mix of people reflects the way the world is – I’ve had the chance to mix with lots of people from lots of different backgrounds.”

In the future, Jess hopes to get more involved with the family farm but, in the meantime, she has plenty to keep her busy.

Industry activities

As one of the NFU Student and Young Farmer Ambassadors, she has recently participated in Science Week, attended the NFU conference and is going to be part of a project promoting inclusivity and diversity in agriculture.

Jess is also co-founder of the Women in Stem Society at Nottingham. It encourages young female school- and college-leavers to consider careers in everything from agriculture to neuroscience, and the society now has more than 150 members.

“I’ve finished my training with the Farming Community Network, too, so they’re looking at getting me set up on the helpline, doing fundraising activities and representing them at events to raise awareness of the important work they do.

“There are so many challenges in agriculture – everything from poor returns and succession to isolation and the weather – that farmers sometimes don’t have anywhere to turn other than a helpline.

“We have such poor mental health across our industry. A survey showed that 88% of farmers under 40 said they believe mental health is biggest issue in farming – which is really worrying.”

Health and wellbeing

In a bid to look after her own mental health, Jess tries to take every Sunday afternoon off – sometimes heading out for a bike ride. She also does spin classes at a gym and is hoping to take a holiday “somewhere hot” this year. 

“You can’t always make plans in agriculture, but it’s important to take time off when you can.”

Life has changed a lot since she was crowned Farmers Weekly Ag Student of the Year at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London.

“It was so nice to attend an event where everyone was celebrating farming. Of course, it was nerve-racking because I didn’t know I’d won beforehand. I was aware how good the other candidates were, so I was in shock when I heard my name called out!

“My mum, my brother and I run the farm at home, and I can’t imagine a time when I wouldn’t be involved in that. 

“There’s still some way to go to get men and women seen as equal in this industry, but you see a lot more women in farming these days. 

“Ultimately, it’s not about gender – it’s about ability. I’ll never be as good at tractor-driving as my brother, but it’s the other way round when it comes to cows!

“The farming lifestyle is one I wouldn’t want to ever give up, but it’s good to do other things in tandem with that, because it’s easy to become insular and isolated otherwise.

“A few years ago, I wouldn’t have believed a career in agriculture was possible for me, being a woman and lacking confidence. Now I can’t wait to see what the future will bring.

“Whatever I do, I’ll try to constantly push my limits and put myself out of my comfort zone, though,” she says

Enter the 2022 Awards

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The 2022 Ag Student of the Year is sponsored by Oxbury, The Agricultural Bank.

Join Farmers Weekly in celebrating the farming industry and recognising the hard work of UK farmers and enter the awards today.

Alternatively, nominate a deserving individual for an award.

For more information about the 2022 Farmers Weekly Awards, visit the official Farmers Weekly Awards website.