Conall Madigan, Spence Agricultural Scholar 2020

My name is Conall Madigan and I am 18 years old. I live in Lincolnshire and love farming and shooting. During the pandemic I was fed up of being stuck inside all day long and wanted to get a job on an arable farm so that I would have plenty of experience behind me when I apply for jobs within the agricultural sector in the future.

In January 2021 I approached the local farmer in the neighbouring village and asked for a harvest job. Having one and a half years’ experience on a dairy farm, carting bales and muck, gave me that little bit of an advantage of getting the job. So, the farmer told me to come down to the yard to see what I was like on a tractor and I was thrilled to be told I had got the job!

My first task on the farm was to help with the sugar beet harvest and cart the beet out the field ready to be loaded up into lorries. Then I helped with land preparation for the future crops in the year e.g. ploughing, parrow harrowing and subsoiling. When harvest came around, I enjoyed it the most as all your hard work of looking after the crop pays off with a good yield. And working with good friends made the long 15-hour days fly by!

When looking for the university of my choice I had three in mind, but Nottingham University stuck out the most. This is because Nottingham is a Russell Group university, meaning that it has high standards of teaching and has high achieving students. Another reason I chose Nottingham is because they look at the science behind the farming and carry out high quality research into different ways the agricultural sector is able to adapt to the ever-changing environment of this sector.

When I arrived at Nottingham my first impression was how friendly the staff and students were; they all made us feel so welcome since it is quite a small campus compared to many others. The best part of the university is that it is in the countryside, meaning you don’t get the hustle and bustle of the city traffic however you do occasionally get the odd plane fly over since it is in the flight path of East Midlands airport.

The part of my course I enjoy most, is going on trips. This is because it gives me an insight of what people within the sector are really trying to achieve and how they aim to improve what they are doing, whether that is through trying regenerative farming or going completely organic. Within my course I am looking forward to studying more on crop-based farming. Being from an arable farming background, I have always wanted to learn more about the agronomy of the crops that are grown, and the different types of pesticides needed to keep the plant healthy. Therefore, when I graduate my ambition is to become an agronomist or a farm manager as I have always wanted to have my own farm and to incorporate agronomy methods therein.

The Rochester Bridge Trust Spence Agricultural Scholarship will allow me to purchase course material such as the John Nix Farm Management pocket book and work towards certificates such as my PA4+pgs.

With the start of term two there has been a considerable number of changes within my university routine. The biggest change was going from online lectures to face-to-face lectures, which necessitated an earlier start to my day to fit in breakfast and preparation for my day’s activities. In addition to this, it has been difficult to make connections with the peers on my course, due to most of the lectures being online to date. It was hard not being able to match faces with names. With regards to meeting new people, I have made an effort speak to my peers at the end of the lectures just to get to know the people on the course.

In comparison to Nottingham University, the college I attended previously was very hands-on in its approach to learning. Therefore, moving from being hands-on with practical three days a week to having no practical or hands-on work, due to online learning, has been quite challenging. At my previous college I also had a good relationship with teaching staff where they knew my strengths and weaknesses and pushed me to achieve my full potential. The larger class sizes at university make it harder to forge a rapport with lecturers although they are very supportive of the students.

With my family home being one hour away from Nottingham University I go home most weekends. The one thing I am finding hard is not being around to look after my Labrador puppy that I purchased at the start of February, especially as I am training her to be a gun dog for future shooting seasons. Therefore, the days that I am back at home I am looking after my puppy to take the pressure off my parents. When on campus I also miss the freedom of being in the countryside, which is something that I have been spoilt by in my family home. This is because you can literally walk out the front door and walk down the road for five minutes and be on a public foot path and walk for miles. When I am at home I am in the middle of nowhere, so I can just sit outside and listen to the birds and do my university work (which I am doing right now).

Through my first year at university, I have particularly enjoyed the module of grassland management.

This is because it was enjoyable to learn about how the different types of grasses are suited for different climates and areas of the world. In addition to this it was interesting to learn what type of grasses are best utilised in different grazing programmes, as well as the different methods of preservation of grasses.

Another aspect of the course I have enjoyed is going on farm visits and tours, these have enabled me to get a further understanding of different methods of farming and the many diversification plans, that have been put in place due to the loss of the basic payment scheme.

If I was to speak to someone who doesn’t know much about the agricultural industry, I would not use certain terminology so that it does not complicate the explanation of the different processes and harvesting methods. However, within my year at Nottingham University I have struggled with some of the modules that has been assigned with my course. These modules consisted of mathematics, physics and biochemistry. This is because the last time I studied any science was in secondary school for my GCSE’s: after that agricultural college was more hands-on learning compared to sixth form which is all written learning, meaning this was a big change I had to adapt to.

Since finishing university for the year, I have started my harvest job on Ancaster Estates which is located in south Lincolnshire in Swinstead. The estate compromises 2,100 acres of combinable cropping and 900 acres of grassland which totals a 3,000 acre farm with a 300 head heard of longhorn and red and black angus cattle. At this time of year, it is getting increasingly busy with cattle being turned out to grass, sheds to be mucked out, silage to be cut and bailed, and finally sheds to be cleaned out ready for harvest. Through this I hope to gain a lot experience with cattle and to be able to do an array of tractor work, such as spaying and drilling which I could not do until I got my PA2, which allows you to use a trailed/self-propelled sprayer.

After finishing my first year at Nottingham University I had a week off week off where I was able to attend an agricultural event called Cereals.

This event show cases all the main types of varieties different crops and different tests to see what a crop would look like without being treated with pesticides or any fertiliser. It was quite interesting to see the effects that it had on the crop and to see how varying amounts of fungicides affect their growth and yield.

The event also showcased the latest advancements in mechanical crop protection and tillage work. It was amazing to see driverless machines in the tillage area of the show as this is a major progression in the agriculture sector, meaning farmers would be able to cut labour cost and not have to work such long hours.

After my week off I started at my summer job on the farm. During this period I gained a lot of experience with different aspects to agriculture, whether it was with cattle or on the arable side of farming.

Over the harvest period the average day consisted of: In the morning we’d all meet in the workshop to discuss the plan of the day which was normally check cattle that was spread across the farm, then check oils of all the tractors, make sure they all have a full tank of diesel and to blow down and fill up the combine.

Most days we didn’t finish before 11pm, as the crops were that dry we were able to go late into the night. This year the crops yielded very well, with the wheat averaging around 3.5t/ac which is really good with the fact that Septoria (a leaf spot disease) has been a problem.

The highlight of this harvest was being able to have one of the new tractors on the farm as my main tractor for harvest. The benefit was that I was able to relax as it has the biggest tractor cab in the market.

After harvest had finished, I was able to get some experience of cultivations. One thing I liked was when working late I was able to see some brilliant sunsets which is a beautiful and made me appreciate the job and environment I work in. Then when the weather turned bad at night the I enjoyed watching the thunder and lightning as I loved hearing the thunder crash and the lightshow.

Since coming back to university, it made me realise how much I miss working on the farm and being in the outdoors. Because of this I try and go home most weekends to help out my brother on the farm with the cattle as they are now in for the year until the spring. Over the past two weeks they have been busy applying the first dose of fertiliser to all the crops, with this I have been able to get my drone, that I have recently bought, out and film for the first time.

This term the activities I have enjoyed the most are the Enterprise Management Challenge and the Agronomy Field Course Trip.

The Enterprise Management Challenge is where we are split into groups and have to grow our own little plot of sugar beet.

The group that makes the most profit wins a prize. Within this module we had to decide what the best variety is to grow and chose appropriate control methods of pests, weeds and fungicides and also try to make a profit on the crop. Alongside this we also chose how much fertiliser is to be applied to the crop and best suited for the sugar beet contract for the growing year.

As the module progressed, we learned that due to the weather being so cold and wet through March and April the sugar beet was drilled only drilled on 19 May, which is a very late drilling date for sugar beet and affects the yield of the crop and has a knock on effect with pest and disease management resulting in a lower payment.

After this module finished, I then went on an Agronomy Field Course Trip where the university took us to Norfolk to see six farms where they grow a variety of crops and farm in different ways. Personally, my favourite farm was Splendas farm, where he talked about his potatoes, oilseed rape and peas. It was very interesting learning about the different fungicide programs applied to each crop.