Alexandra (Lexi) Taylor, Spence Agricultural Scholar 2019

Lexi is eligible for a scholarship because she is from a village in north Lincolnshire, which is an area where the Trust owns a large estate. During her first term of study she introduces herself and offers some advice to future students.

My name is Alexandra Taylor, but I’ve almost always been called Lexi, I am 19 years old. I am from Lincolnshire and have lived there since I was very small. Having always ridden horses, when we sold the last of our horses while I was going into my first year of sixth form, I (possibly influenced by mum and dad!) decided I might get rather bored not doing very much all summer. Thus followed the conversation about me getting a job. I have always had an interest in agriculture as my grandparents were potato farmers, so I decided a harvest job would suit, mostly because I knew I’d be working lots and earning well. 

Fortunately, we had some family friends who have a mixed farm in a village about 20 minutes away from home; so, I emailed and asked if there was any slim possibility of me coming to work for them. Luckily the owner is open minded and has daughters himself, so was prepared to give me a chance – much to bafflement of some others (17-year-old girl who had just passed her driving test!). 

After a nervous first few days, learning how to drive all of the tractors and telehandlers, I slowly started to settle into it – although I’ll admit I was coming home absolutely exhausted every evening! Now, three years on, I have continued to work for the same farm every summer and on other occasions around school; I absolutely love every second of it – which is lucky when you work a 99-hour week in the middle of August and your friends are at the pub! 

So, I decided I needed to learn a bit more about why I do all of the different tasks I do over the summer and that an agricultural degree would be the perfect course for me. I chose the course at Nottingham because I found it was the most scientific (I am doing Agricultural and Crop science) and the most forward-thinking – two things that are really important going into the challenging times facing the agricultural industry.

I am also fascinated by modernising agriculture and trying to improve the conversation around food production and farming on the whole, I think embracing social media and other educational campaigns will be hugely influential in helping to improve the attitude towards farming. I also strongly believe young people should be exposed to agriculture much more for two reasons. The first being that they will then understand where their food comes from, have an appreciation for how it is produced and the work that goes into it – thus hopefully improving their consumer decisions, such as buying British, Red Tractor-approved and in-season foods; helping the British farming community and reducing the effects of food travel on climate change. The second reason is that it could easily be a career path that might suit them which they may not even know is an option.

I know I was doubted by many people and questioned when choosing to work in farming – there is still a perception that only boys can do it and that we might not be strong enough or that a girl may not ‘hack’ the hours that go with farming. For anyone reading this who wonders about these things – my advice would be to go for it if you think you’ll enjoy it; there may be times you’re not strong enough, or not tall enough to reach but nine times out of ten there’s another way and you will manage it – if not, ask for help, and that’s absolutely fine too! You may also be exhausted and may have to deal with some stick when you break things – but it is all in the right spirit and you might also make friends for life. On the other end of the spectrum you might just hear what I heard while at a job interview for a maize contractor in New Zealand “Oh, you’ll be fantastic, girls never break things like the boys do!” so I suppose it goes both ways!

Overall, I hope my degree helps me to make a difference to agriculture, and that I continue to love what I will forever be learning about. I don’t yet know exactly what my ambitions are in terms of a future career, but I hope I am still able to do the hands-on, practical jobs that I enjoy doing, while also maybe having an impact on something much bigger; but I suppose only time will tell!

Since writing my first blog I have effectively completed my first year at university; while we still have some online teaching and a few online exams to do, most students have left. Although obviously unavoidable in the circumstances, I think I speak for a lot of us when I say this was disappointing and that we were sad to have to leave so soon. I personally was definitely feeling great about the rest of the year, spending time with some brilliant friends and enjoying university life. 

I am more than happy to be open about the fact that my first few weeks at university were not what I expected them to be; and that I found it hard adjusting back from full time work (which I finished two days before we moved to Nottingham) to be a student again. Having also had a gap year, I think this adjustment was all the more drastic; I was very used to being away from home, but I have always liked to be busy and this is not something I found myself being during freshers’ week!

All this being said, with a few small changes: moving flats, getting myself a job riding out in the mornings and just generally finding a great group of friends, my perspective on university was completely flipped, and I have loved it ever since. 

A huge part of this change has definitely also been down to the ‘Agrics’ society; a group that welcomes any students who want to get involved with agriculture in some way. As a society we do farm/factory trips, organise social events, and all sorts of things on campus. I am thrilled to have been elected as Vice President of the society for next year, as a committee we have got some big ideas with things we would like to achieve – so I will keep you updated on what we get up to!

Since covid-19 I have moved back to the farm I have worked on for the last few harvests; so straight back to work – suits me! As a result of the terribly wet winter it has been a busy spring. We will have drilled about 800 acres of spring crops which is far more than usual. 

There was also the added complication of having left about 30 acres of potatoes in the ground over winter, as it had become too wet to lift them in 2019. These were lifted in March, although passable, the way the ground dried meant that the soil had formed large clods that the harvester cannot filter the potatoes from. This meant a huge labour drive on the grading line to pull off all the soil – but, success, we had lifted the spuds, which were in huge demand! That same day, lockdown was announced, and McDonalds closed. 

The potatoes we grow here are contract sold to McCains – who supply McDonalds! The plan was that the potatoes would be picked up and processed almost immediately, but the closure meant that McCains’ cold stores were full, and they had a backlog of stock and limited haulage availability. So, the potatoes had to sit in the shed for a few weeks, this meant bruising developed on them, and they were then unsuitable for the chips McCains would have made from them. Approximately 300 tonnes of potatoes that will therefore reap no return for the farmers for whom I work; a hugely difficult pill to swallow for them, such is the nature of farming from time to time.

We are fortunate to also have a dairy unit that supplies Arla, who have continued to collect and pay for the milk; unlike some farms who have devastatingly had to dump thousands of litres of milk.

Looking forward; we now have almost all of this years’ crops in the ground, with just the maize and potatoes to finish planting. We have already started irrigating spring barley and spring oats in an attempt to help the seed get away as we had a long period with very little rain. 

First cut of silage is just around the corner, which is all important feed for the dairy cows. Then we may have a slightly quieter period, spraying and fertilizing to ensure good crop growth, and also getting on with the usual never-ending list of jobs to do when running a farm! Then, without a doubt before we know it, harvest will be just around the corner, there will be sheds to clear, and machinery to ready, before the combine rolls out of the shed for the busiest months of the year. It’s a time I always look forward to and brings a huge reward for the hard work that is put in over the course of a year. I am grateful to have been able to come much earlier this year; I have seen so much more of what happens, rather than just appearing when the crops are about ready to be combined.

I really hope this pandemic passes soon, so that I am able to see my family again, and we can get back to ‘normal’, at the same time though, I feel very lucky to work in an industry that carries on through a crisis like this. I’m sure that the next time I write here covid-19 will be behind us but having left its mark.

Here’s to better times, a successful harvest and healthy loved ones. 

Lexi