Hannah Piggott, Spence Agricultural Scholar 2018

Hannah was eligible for a scholarship because she is from a village in north Lincolnshire, which is an area where the Trust owns a large estate. After a year as a Spence Agricultural Scholar she decided to change the direction of her studies.

Science has always been my favourite subject, so it was inevitable my degree would be something in this area. I developed an interest in agriculture specifically because of horses. I own two, which were briefly housed on a local farm, where I had the opportunity to help with lambing and even raised my own calf.

The University of Nottingham was the natural choice for me as it’s a Russell Group institution with a reputable background. I know I made the right decision because its Sutton Bonington campus offers an onsite farm, a friendly atmosphere and a location similar to my home village, all of which made the transition to university life easier than I had expected. The university has so much to offer students in terms of teaching standards and extracurricular activities and the campus is beautiful with a strong community feel – everybody is friendly and eager to help, especially the staff.

As I am at the start of my first year, my course modules are diverse. They range from agriculture on a molecular scale – as seen in genes and cells – to its impact globally, in relation to bioscience and global food security. This variety gives me the opportunity to appreciate the wider aspects of agriculture before studying more specific topics – such as grassland management – at a later date.

This also enables me to consider my future, which is not yet set in stone. I would love to travel to the wine regions of Italy to learn about their viticulture systems, in addition to gaining first-hand experience of agricultural methods used in Asian counties. However my main ambition is to eventually have my own mixed smallholding.

Coming from a non-farming background, this scholarship has given me the opportunity to better understand the world of agriculture. The money I received is being put towards a subscription to the Farmers Guardian magazine, attendance at several county shows and an array of materials to support my studies. In all, the Spence Agricultural Scholarship has allowed me to further support my studies outside the classroom, which is something that may not otherwise have been possible.

My best piece of advice to people applying to university now is to take every opportunity possible. When I first applied for this scholarship I thought my chances were small, however by taking the initiative I surprised myself. The same can said about my application to study agriculture at the University of Nottingham. I’d thought coming from a non-farming background would hinder my chances of success, in reality this didn’t actually matter.

Furthermore, applying to a university with ambitious entry requirements shouldn’t scare students: aim high because you may surprise yourself on results day, exceeding your expectations by achieving higher grades than anticipated.

Hannah Piggott shares her initial experiences of being at university, including the range of extracurricular activities she’s already enjoyed.

It is safe to say the biggest difference between studying at university compared to sixth form is how self-directed your learning is, otherwise there are many similarities. The process of being assigned an academic tutor is similar to having a form tutor in the sixth form and gives you a familiar face to visit if a problem arises in your academic life. Many of the modules forming the agriculture course are taught by the same lecturers, giving familiarity, in a way that is similar to teachers at sixth form. The lecturers are always happy to help, and their enthusiastic teaching makes classes engaging. An overall change in studying has allowed me to find new, more effective ways to work which are better tailored to my learning styles.

Since starting university, moving away from home has probably been the biggest challenge I have faced. Becoming more independent was tough at first, learning to balance everyday life from, studies and work experience to cooking and cleaning, however the whole experience has allowed me to improve skills such as time management and organisation, making life here easier every day. As well as this, I find I have gained a general sense of confidence from becoming more independent, which I am currently using to organise work experience for my Easter and summer breaks. A boost in confidence has also allowed me to meet new people, something I had always struggled with before coming to university, but the friendly and welcoming nature of the campus has made attending events hosted by the Sutton Bonington Agrics society, easy and fun!

As much as university has been an incredible experience, I do miss seeing my horses each day, which I was able to do while living at home. Since owning horses and enjoying being outside was one of the reasons I took an interest in agriculture, not having them on campus has been difficult. However, I feel since being at the University of Nottingham, the time I spent with them when visiting home has been more gratifying than before.

Increased extracurricular time has allowed me to participate in experiences I could never have dreamed about at home. Earlier in January, I visited the farming machinery company Garford for a demonstration on their latest precision agriculture technology. The trip really helped me to better understand the workings of this technology in modern farming and how a wider application of its use could aid in increasing crop yields.

A few weeks later we had a guest speaker from the NFU who gave a talk on Brexit and the implications the movement would have on the UK agriculture market. The talk was incredibly useful for me, coming from a non-farming background, as before the presentation my knowledge of its implication was limited but now I feel I have a broader understanding and an idea of how we as young people can do our part to help in the near future.

Finally, our most recent trip to the university’s dairy farm (pictured) as part of our contemporary agriculture module has been a highlight of the term so far. Our tour allowed us to follow the life of a dairy cow from birth to milking and gave us an experience to watch the robotic milking systems at work. The visit allowed me to appreciate the workings of a high standard dairy farm from well ventilated/naturally illuminated sheds for improved heath and robotic brushes for aiding the cow’s well-being.

The entire term has been incredible and full of opportunities I would never have had a chance to participate in had it not been for being at university.

The thought of how fast the past nine months have gone is astonishing, but I could not have asked for a better first year at university.

It is safe to believe that in the past year I have gained a solid foundational understanding of agriculture, from the workings of common agricultural systems to crop and plant growth, and the impact of the industry on both a local and global scale. The variety of topics that have been taught is invaluable. 

Having started the course with limited prior knowledge, the breadth of information has contributed to an increased confidence on the subject while also influencing my module interests for the next year. 

While the decision to work within viticulture post-graduation has been an area of interest in recent months, the question of a focused career remained. Modules on genes and cells and plant science, pathology, and the varying effect it has within crops, struck me as fascinating. As a result, this has influenced my decision to undertake optional modules such as plant health and disease, with the hope of gaining a more detailed understanding of the subject to shape a career following university. 

While studying has aided my textbook comprehension of agriculture, the skills I received during a lambing placement over Easter were indispensable. Working alongside a shepherdess to care for her flock allowed me to appreciate the work that she and thousands of farmers undertake nationwide. I was able to see both new and old farming techniques in place and how the balance of these two formed such a well organised system. It was clear how research being led by people such as those at the University of Nottingham, was influencing the way these farmers worked, such as in the case of reducing antibiotic use to tackle the rise in resistant bacteria strains. It also gave me the opportunity to make links between knowledge gained within lectures while also having the hands-on practice, making it an enriching placement all round. 

Overall the past year has made me look closer at my surroundings, whether it be the type of grass species growing within my horses’ paddocks or the phyllotaxy of varying plants. Each day I find myself having a greater regard for agriculture which has such a phenomenal impact on so many other industries. 

In addition to this, the Rochester Bridge Trust has also taught me just how far ties to agriculture can reach and so, as well as looking forward continuing my education next year, I am also excited to continue to share what I have learnt with others so they too can have a greater respect for this unbelievably timeless and yet ever-evolving industry.