Jakob Eunson: Modern Apprentice in agriculture

From field to fork: the rise of an agriculture entrepreneur

Jakob Eunson is making quite a name for himself in the world of Scottish agriculture. Not only is he one of a handful of trainees to win the agriculture category at Lantra Scotland’s prestigious Land-based and Aquaculture Learner of the Year Awards, he is also on his way to becoming a successful ambassador for Uradale Farm on East Voe, one of Shetland’s most enterprising organic farms. Run by his father Ronnie Eunson, the farm is one of few on the islands to offer a complete field to fork service, providing high quality organic lamb and beef directly to wholesalers and retailers through a butchery service.

Jakob said: “My father recognised a gap in the market to produce and cut our own meat, enabling us to deal directly with customers. We now sell our lamb and beef to hotels, restaurants, shops and cafes across Shetland, mainland Scotland and further afield. There is currently a big demand for organic Shetland farm produce, particularly products like Reestit Mutton, which is dried and salted lamb that we Shetlanders like to eat during the winter.”

Having undertaken an SVQ Level 2 in Agriculture and Butchery and latterly a Modern Apprenticeship with an SVQ Level 3 in Livestock Production through Lantra Scotland and Train Shetland, Jakob has injected fresh new ideas and methods into the farming enterprise. Last year he set up a Facebook page and built a thriving community of partners and wholesalers to raise awareness of his products and build sales. He has also focused on prestigious food and drinks events across the UK and Europe. In September, Jakob will be flying down to Brittany in France to a specialist food and drinks fair, as well as attending his local ‘Taste of Shetland’ festival towards the end of the year.

Jakob says: “Perhaps one of the key things I’ve brought to the farm is to develop the retail side of the business and find new ways to market — because we have a butchery side, we are targeting more food and drink events where we can meet and talk to customers. Social media is also a useful tool and has helped me to boost sales. I’ve had to brush up on my customer skills which has been a real challenge but very rewarding.”

The apprenticeship scheme combines practical work on a farm with study through a college or training provider. This unique blend of theory and practice prepares apprentices for the working environment as well as providing a successful way for employers to bring on new talent.

He adds: “The Modern Apprenticeship has been hugely helpful to me – when you are part of a family farm, it’s easy to stick to the same old way of doing things. It’s opened my eyes to new methods and I’ve visited lots of different farms. This industry has become much more technology-driven these days and there are new techniques being introduced all the time, some of which we now use at Uradale.”

Jakob’s role as a trainee farmer involves lots of hard work outdoors, in the butcher’s shop or in the office. He is involved in all levels of the business, from crop and livestock production to cutting and delivering lamb and beef products directly to the customer. The role involves long hours, particularly during the summer months when he works on the farm all day and does the butchery in the evening, cutting and weighing products, working out the correct pricing structure and sending invoices to customers. However, despite the challenges, Jakob wouldn’t have it any other way.

Jakob says: “I love the farming way of life. It is challenging, exciting and always leaves me happy and satisfied at the end of the day.  It is very rewarding working with your hands just as our forefathers did for generations. There is something very endearing about that.

Of course, working on Shetland presents its own unique challenges because of where we are. The cost of transporting goods here is high, so many farms are organic to keep overheads to a minimum. We also have a growing season just a hundred days long, which is about half what you get on the mainland. That makes it hard to get your crops grown and harvested in time, so there’s very little room for error.  Despite the difficulties, I love what I do and would recommend it to anyone.”

In addition to being an ambassador for his own family farm, Jakob was recently chosen by Lantra Scotland to be one of their ‘industry champions.’ The initiative will see former finalists from Lantra Scotland’s Land-based and Aquaculture Learner of the Year Awards introduce more people to career opportunities and qualifications offered by their respective industries. The champions will also act as ambassadors for their employers and the wider rural sector, promoting land, environmental and aquaculture industries to the next generation of talent, helping to ensure that new entrants are involved in relevant skills consultations, policies and strategies.

“I was delighted and honoured to be chosen as one of Lantra Scotland’s ambassadors – winning a Lantra award back in March has opened up so many opportunities for me and this is just one of the benefits I am seeing. Being an award winner and industry champion has given me great confidence and reinforces the idea that your hard work will be rewarded.

If you are thinking about a career in agriculture, you should get in touch with Lantra or your local college or training provider to discuss your plans. They will try to help you find the course or career you want, perhaps through a Modern Apprenticeship, as well as discuss the qualifications you need. If you’re already working in the sector, ask your employer or college to put you forward for a Lantra award. It is well worth the effort!”