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. 


A huge amount has changed since I wrote my last blog, some for the better, and some that seem to be dragging on: Covid-19 – oh how optimistic I was in my last update to say that it would have passed by now!

I had a really exciting summer; I took on a new job as a challenge and to push myself to learn new things. It meant I spent the summer driving a combine in Wiltshire. I must admit that when I applied for the job I wasn’t sure I would get it, however, a call with my then soon to be boss was a good opportunity to talk things through and we found we had similar goals and that he was prepared to take the time to teach me this new skill.

The farm is about 1,300 acres, arable and grassland, beef cattle and ,2000 pigs on a ‘B&B’ plan. I was responsible for all combining and also the daily looking after of the housed cattle, feeding, bedding up etc. This was a big step up for me in terms of responsibility – as I also helped to manage overall logistics and planning, but I loved the challenge and feeling like my input was really valued. Successfully combining more than 1,000 acres was a massive achievement for me; a girl, aged only 20! Safe to say, the first time the combine engineer came out to help me calibrate the GPS from tractor to combine, he was rather surprised. He soon told me I was the only female combine driver anyone in their group (T H Whites – who cover quite a large area!) had ever known.

I don’t mind being the first – but I really hope I’m not the last, we definitely need to show younger girls that agriculture is a career option for them.

Anyway, after what can only be described as a ‘decent’ harvest, severely hindered by such a wet winter; combining oil seed rape, wheat, barley, beans and linseed, we finished combining on the 14 September and I had to head pretty quickly back to uni and into my new student house in Kegworth.

Since then I have been relatively busy with university, albeit in a different to normal. Virtually all of my lectures are now online so I do them from home; while this is quite strange it does give me more flexibility. I can work every morning and then fit my lectures in at a time that suits me. This has been very far from the year we wanted for the ‘Agrics’ society, due to Covid restrictions we haven’t been able to do half of the activities we had hoped; but hopefully we might be able to rectify some of this after Christmas (although this may also be a sign of my optimistic nature!). I am busy with a few coursework assignments at the moment, trying to get them done before going home to see family over Christmas. I am enjoying the course much more this year as it seems so much more relevant and practical in terms of agriculture, and I am gaining knowledge that I might use in the future!

I am so grateful to Rochester Bridge Trust for this scholarship; I was able to complete my trailer test in February as a result of this support and I aim to get other qualifications in the new year when things open up again. This will be a huge help to my employability and skillset.

I am hopeful that the new year will bring with it fewer ‘restrictions’, new opportunities and another year of my degree completed. Thank you for taking the time to read my update.

We are now in April 2021, and my last blog post was from just before Christmas; so Happy New Year, I suppose!

Who’d have thought we would still be living in this virtual world? Unfortunately, the situation hasn’t changed, so we are all having to do our best to carry on. This has meant that all lectures bar a select few have remained online and we haven’t been able to enjoy our ‘university experience’ for a long time now.

In a more positive light, we are nearing the end of the academic year and I am closer to the final year of my degree. Most importantly, this means starting to think about my dissertation project. I am planning to do it within the area of precision agriculture, possibly studying variable seed rate and variable rate nitrogen applications. I am excited to get started on the project and begin thinking about it.

I am very lucky that I have been able to keep busy in the winter months riding point to point horses (I’m pictured leading one of them). This is one piece of advice I would give to students starting an undergraduate degree – find a part-time job! I think that this has perhaps been of even greater importance due to the pandemic, and I have many friends who have longed for some extra work to keep them busy outside of university. It helps to keep life varied and also keeps the mind focussed when doing work for your course. Although hopefully next year we will be back to more in person teaching and fewer Teams meetings!

One of the areas of interest that I wanted to write a piece about was on the topic of ethical agriculture and agriculture in the media. These are topics that are incredibly relevant at the moment, and hugely important in my opinion. I think it is crucial that we as farmers, growers and suppliers of food work together to present UK agriculture in its best light to the public.

At the moment I think there is a huge detachment between suppliers and consumers of food; food has become so readily available and so cheap that consumers no longer spend time thinking about where it comes from.

If there was one potential upside to the Covid-19 pandemic it was that it forced the public to see that there can still be food shortages, and that we must remain food self-sufficient. There were still vegetables, potatoes and bags of flour on the shelves because of British farmers, which was a great success story for UK agriculture.

I think the media helped to promote this; there was such shock at the lack of food that the media frenzy actually helped people thank their local farmers. I hope that the media also continues to help local farm shops to find their target customers, as these are great ways for farmers to diversify and bring consumers closer to the food they buy.

On the ethical agriculture front, I think projects like the Ethical Butcher and regenerative agriculture are taking brilliant steps towards improving standards in both arable and livestock farming. These and similar initiatives will pave the way for a more positive outlook on farming by the public and may help to slow or even reverse the trend of people eating less meat in the UK; instead asking people to question where their meat comes from and what its true environmental impact is. I also think that new entrants into the sector are another important contingent to promote British farming to the younger members of the public.

All the best, and I look forward to telling you all about how my harvest goes at Holkham Estate in Norfolk.

Hello again everyone! It always seems like it has been a while since I last wrote a blog, but things also move so quickly that there’s a lot to say!

We are now in July, and I am a couple of weeks into my new summer job at Holkham Estate on the North Norfolk coast. The estate in total is about 25,000 acres, some of this is still farmed by tenant farmers although more and more land is being taken ‘in-house’. As I write this we are probably five days off the start of combining, so there have been other jobs to do in preparation; getting combines ready, some muck carting and workshop jobs have been keeping us busy. This is a new environment for me; a much bigger farm with a very commercial aspect and a much bigger team to work with. The farm team is about 15 people in total and gets bigger at busy times; they have been wonderfully welcoming and have made it so easy to settle into a new team.

The summer will keep me very busy until the mid/end of September when I will go back to university to start the third and final year of my degree. The main challenge for third year is my dissertation, which is already well on its way. I am assessing the financial viability of variable seed rate drilling on the university farm. I will also use data from the trials set up here at Holkham, so I should have a wealth of information to look at the profit benefits to be had from the added costs of variable rate drilling. For those who may not know, this means that – based on soil type and nutrient mapping of the field – we sow seeds at different densities (e.g. 170kg/ha compared to 210kg/ha) to minimise seed cost and encourage better establishment across the whole field. See the picture for how this looks in a field. The trials team have already collected some samples for me at the university farm, which I will analyse and collate in October to form the main data collection of my project. I am very much looking forward to getting under way with this and seeing how my findings present themselves.

Alongside my research project I will still have other modules to complete over the year and will hope to keep up to date with these to keep the pressure off! The other thing that will be vital as the year goes on is job hunting. I am very much looking forward to this aspect of next year, and hope to find something very rewarding, just don’t ask me what that will be yet!

In the last year, this scholarship has been of particular use to me; I now have my B+E trailer license, my PA 1,2 and 4S&G (pesticide application tickets) and my telehandler ticket. These are all hugely important qualifications for my career, and I wouldn’t have been able to afford them without the backing of this scholarship; so a huge thanks to Rochester Bridge Trust and its Spence Agricultural Scholarship.

I am really looking forward to the busy period of harvest starting again, we have had a much better growing period so yields are looking more promising than last year – which was disappointing for most farmers. All of our barley goes to Adnams brewery and there is only a small amount of oilseed rape, followed by wheat and beans. The farm also contract grows maize for an onsite but external anaerobic digester. Renewable energy sources are widely utilised on the farm, including wind turbines and solar panels. The whole estate has a project called ‘Wonder’ which aims to make the estate carbon neutral or negative by 2040. As tourism and visitors are a huge part of the business, it is important that we advertise the sustainability steps we are taking on the farm to promote the farming business. It is a great estate to be on, and there are hugely knowledgeable people here for me to learn from.

As ever, thank you for reading and being interested in what I am up to. I look forward to letting you all know how harvest goes and how I get on in my final year. I hope we will be able to get back to a more normal university life, including in person lectures and some more social events.

Happy harvest and have a great summer!

December 2021, very nearly time to wish everyone a Happy Christmas and New Year, but first – to update you all on what has been going on with me. 

I had the most fantastic summer working at Holkham, with a fantastic group of people and a wonderful environment. I learnt so much and found out about a wholly different approach to farming that will be more prominent in English farming in the future. I could talk about it all day! 

Returning to uni at the end of September came as a bit of a shock but was also a welcome challenge knowing I had one final year of study to complete. I came back refreshed after a fun summer and ready to put all my focus into university. My modules so far this year have been interesting and have included a rural business management challenge in which we must work as teams to create a new business plan for a local farm. This included completing all of the finances for our business proposal, which has been a very interesting learning opportunity. I have also been studying for an agronomy module, which involves creating a rotation plan, soil management plan, nutrients management plan and a crop protection strategy for another local farm. Both have been good modules to give more ‘real world’ experiences and teach us transferable skills for life after university. 

My other big challenge at the moment is dissertation writing, which has to be constantly going on in the background. The majority of the work is a literature review, so that the dissertation I write is relevant to current research. I have spent time processing my trial samples in the crop lab (pictured) which was good experience and taught me that I probably don’t want a purely lab job! 

Looking ahead to the future I have exciting job prospects on the horizon, which I hope to be able to share more about in the new year!  Hopefully soon I will have a graduate job confirmed and be looking forward to working life after gaining my degree. 

Being back at uni in-person (for most events) has been great – it has been nice to reconnect with students and classmates. I hope this will continue for all of my final academic year. I will go home for a week or so over Christmas and use the time to celebrate with family and friends. 

This year this scholarship has, as always, helped me hugely financially, I have been able to go on trips and visits that I may not have been able to otherwise. These included a trip to the CropTec show to find out about all the latest technology and improvements in the crop world. There were talks on nutrient resource efficiency and economics and on the changes to government policy that will affect farmers massively in 2022. 

Thank you again to Rochester Bridge Trust for supporting me during my time at university.

Wow – it is very exciting to be so close to graduating from Nottingham with a degree in Agricultural and Crop Science. As I write I have nearly finished my final year research project/dissertation. I then have two coursework deadlines and two exams before June, then one final presentation before finishing the year! I have thoroughly enjoyed my three years of study – albeit slightly disrupted by Covid, it has been a great success and I have learnt a lot.

I will be moving to Essex in July to start my new job with Ceres Rural as a graduate farming consultant – which I am thrilled about. They were the one company I really wanted to work for, and I will gain some excellent qualifications with them. I will become BASIS and FACTS qualified – these are agronomy qualifications which allow me to recommend the best crop protection and crop nutrition to clients. The additional benefit of working for Ceres is that they also consult on business and diversification decisions. I will be helping with grant applications and support payments under the new ELM scheme (Environmental Land Management), visiting farms and agronomy events.

My final year research project has been a great challenge, but one that I have really enjoyed. I have been looking into the profitability of variable seed rate drilling and how using it could help the gross margins of growing winter wheat. Throughout the process I processed lots of samples from the trials we set up in the crop lab, calculated the components of yield and the yields for the different drilling rates. I found that overall, the use of variable seed rates will improve a farmer’s gross margin when growing winter wheat in the long run, but that there are some significant investment costs to begin with. I have finished writing it and just have some proofreading to do now! It will be a relief to hand it in.

It is a slightly strange feeling knowing that I am not destined for a cab again this summer – I will miss the harvest working camaraderie that the summer usually brings. However, I have no doubt that working for Ceres will offer just as much excitement – and I may not miss the late nights and early starts or cleaning out grain stores! I hope to get back to Holkham lots at the weekends to see how their harvest is going.

I cannot thank the Rochester Bridge Trust enough for supporting my time at university. Being a student is an expensive activity and while I have had part time jobs as well, I have needed all the support they have given me. Being able to take up additional training opportunities and go to events such as CropTech and Cereals are all such great additions to my learning. Thank you so much to the Trust, and thanks to anyone who has read these blogs – I hope you have enjoyed!