Diverse, dynamic and rewarding – if you’re practical and love the outdoors, then a career in agriculture could be for you.
Agriculture is diverse, dynamic and rewarding, with a huge range of interesting and varied career options. If you’re practical, hardworking, love the outdoors or have a passion for science and technology then working in agriculture could be for you.
The UK and Ireland's farmers and crofters play a huge part in looking after our natural landscape. While producing food, they can improve biodiversity, plant trees, restore peat, improve water and soil quality, and generate renewable energy. From the latest trends in data science to new methods of animal husbandry, land management and ecology, working in agriculture is a direct way to address the climate emergency, as well as supporting rural life.
If you’re interested in technology, you could work on a farm using the latest equipment and science to produce food sustainably, safely and efficiently. Or if you want to radically change how we produce food and use our land working vertical farming or remote sensing could be for you. More than ever, agriculture needs innovative, enthusiastic people to help make the food we produce both taste good and make good sense for the planet.
Utilised agricultural land use stands over 70% of the total area of the United Kingdom and over 82% of the Republic of Ireland
Total income from farming in the United Kingdom is estimated to have been £4.1 billion in 2020
Economists at Teagasc estimate that in 2021, the average family farm income in the Republic of Ireland increased by 20% from the previous year
Principal destinations for UK food, feed and drink exports include the Republic of Ireland, France, the USA, and the Netherlands
There are a wide range of diverse career opportunities available to you in the Agriculture sector.
Technology can be used to help farmers and growers in several ways – examples include global positioning system (GPS) driven precision farming equipment adapting their operation to maximise their efficiency at that location, sensors used on irrigators to assess the moisture level of the soil then varying the quantity of water required, and monitoring devices used on livestock to alert of any health or welfare issues. Advancements allow farmers to make data-driven decisions and forecasting, ultimately leading to better practices and improved accesses to food products.
We spoke with Edwin Nichols of Drone Ag about how he started his career with technology, his current role and how drones can be used the support farming activities.
What is your name, company name and job title?
Hello, I am Edwin, the Drone Systems Lead at DroneAg. As a member of a small yet agile organisation, I fulfil a range of responsibilities as necessary. Our company is located near the town of Alnwick, situated in the countryside of Northumberland.
What does Drone Ag do?
Our primary focus is centred on software development and the provision of drone systems. Additionally, we provide training on the usage of our systems for agricultural purposes, as well as for other related products in the market. Our overarching objective is to facilitate efficient and streamlined farming practices by providing software and training for done systems. Specifically, our product offering encompasses automating crop scouting, and enhancing overall farming productivity.
What are your typical jobs on a given day?
Daily, we start our workday by addressing standard email inquiries, which may regard either sales or custom support requirements. A significant portion of our time is dedicated to manual in-house app testing. In addition, we are supporting a multitude of funded and personal projects. We have the freedom to explore varied opportunities for the implementation of technology into land-based sectors. As a team, we attempt to broaden our social media outreach, which will enable us to reach new audiences and promote our products. Finally, to ensure effective communication and coordination, we conduct daily meetings and participate in onboarding calls for training purposes.
What skills are valuable to your role?
In my job, I use different skills to help the company. Good time management is one of these skills that helps me do things on time and work better. Being able to speak confidently to groups is also important because it helps me explain things and talk with people who are interested in what the company does. This is especially important when selling because a good presentation can generate more interest in buying our products or services.
Are there any qualifications/skills/experience needed to get into your type of role?
Different jobs at the company need different things. To work in software development, you usually need to have gone to college, but for sales, it's not always necessary to know about agriculture, even though it can be helpful. I have studied agriculture and have a degree in it, which has been useful in my current job. I also keep up with new technology by taking short courses and getting certificates to fly different types of drones. Our company believes it's important to help employees learn new skills. For example, we recently hired someone who only had A-level qualifications, but they've already learned how to test apps and are now enrolled in a programming course.
Is technology important to your role?
Without a doubt, we firmly believe that technology represents the future of agriculture. As the world's population continues to grow, the need for increased food production is becoming more pressing. Naturally, there is always the possibility that some of our ideas may not succeed, but we remain steadfast in our commitment to utilising technology to maximise productivity and efficiency in agriculture.
How can this technology be used to make farming practices more productive?
Robots can work 24/7 resolving problems in the field, using knowledge from farmers to help with this and working alongside other companies collaboratively. We pride ourselves working alongside other tech firms to accomplish industry wide goals of technological advancement. There is new technology constantly being developed and it is a very exciting sector in which to be involved.
How can this have a positive impact on the land-based sector?
I think it will have a positive impact as it will be great to see more young people in the sector. Majority of what we see are individuals coming from ‘farming families’ so it would be nice to see others who present new ideas/views. They may have a lack of practical knowledge, but this can be learnt on the job.
Is there anything unique about your product?
We are one of the very few companies that are combining automated drone imaging and artificial intelligence - we are farmers who know drones. Our app ‘Skippy Scout’ helps people make more informed decisions on their crops.
Are there busier times of the year than others?
Yes, absolutely the harvest period to drilling is quite a busy time for farmers, as well as us. The rush period starts in Spring with March and April being busy. The summer months are busy with attending trade shows to connect with new customers and other organisations in the industry.
Does your job involve a lot of travelling?
Yes, I have done quite a lot of travelling, mostly Europe and Canada. It is one of the benefits of the job, and as there are opportunities for Drone Ag around the world, we are looking to expand further. We get to experience the tech culture of different markets on visits, as well as gaining a bit of local agriculture knowledge.
What’s the best part of your job?
For me, it’s going to the various trade shows, meeting new people, and working on different ideas to optimise farming operations. Most of our ideas come from our clients, and we take their advice seriously. Technology can be applied to agriculture in many ways, and this is always an exciting prospect.
Is there anything you are particularly proud of?
Yes, I was the third employee of the company when I first started. Now there is a team of twelve, and we are still expanding in Europe. I started in my role following a working placement year as an intern in university. The pay was initially quite low, but I stayed due to seeing potential in the business and its future. It is important to realise experience can be worth much more than money - you make a choice to work with a company. The future is always unknown but especially with technology roles, it’s believing it will develop into something bigger and better.
Are there any challenges in your job?
Yes, the main challenge is that we are engaging with farmers in working environments, so it can be difficult for them to change their practices. If you can ensure they will be making more money and get people to understand how using drones can truly help the process, then that’s a great outcome.
How is your job supporting sustainable agriculture?
A majority of Ag tech is there to make processes greener and more efficient. Using less chemicals and pesticides is a clear benefit that comes with using technology to optimise operations.
If you had to convince someone else of the benefits of a career in your line of work, what would you say to them?
I would say every day is different - I have many friends that work in offices and complain they must do the same thing each day. This is one of the things you never get in technology as you are constantly trialling and testing new equipment.
What do you think the future looks like for your company?
It’s an exciting time - we are planning to expand the team this year as we have several large projects which need various expertise. We are also expanding abroad, bringing our solutions to new markets will be a step in the right direction for Drone Ag.
Are there any future skills already identified?
That is quite difficult to say because things are constantly changing quickly. You must have the willingness to learn all the time, even if you have been in the sector for a long time. Furthermore, a belief in the future of agriculture is important. Looking forward is the best way to generate new ideas and provide solutions.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
We are keen for young people to get involved in the industry and the best place to start is to ask around. Even on social media, be confident enough and ask if roles are available, this shows that you are keen and have a level of interest.
Ben Lewis works and runs his own farm in Cwrtnewydd, near Lampeter, which was inherited through his grandfather at the age of 16. Starting his fourth year, studying BSc in Agriculture at Harper Adams University.
During his Second year of university, he gained a scholarship with The Country Land and Business Association (CLA), which was aimed at students from traditionally underrepresented areas in the rural economy. This has enabled him to travel to various locations, take part in farming conferences, visiting different farms, and going to diverse events to engage.
As well as pursing his education, Ben is passionate about continuing his grandfather’s legacy in building strong and long-lasting land. “This is the best job in the world, I like being outdoors and amongst animals so for me, farming was a no brainer.” He went on to add: “For those who do not have their own farm, talk to different kinds of people, even join a Young Farmers Club, you have nothing to lose and where you can apply for scholarships.” Ben believes this is the best time to get into farming due to the industry demands increasing.
Advanced technologies can revolutionise farming, and throughout Ben’s experience, he appreciates the need for efficient approaches. “I was given a grant for a GPS tracker to use machinery more efficiently, and an ID reader which supports me in identifying the animals quickly, especially if there are any problems”.
With so many mouths to feed and nature to restore and sustain, farming may well be the most important job on the planet. During Bens placement year at Howard farms, in Nottingham and Carlisle, he noticed working sustainably and ‘green’ was an important factor. “The whole point of introducing livestock to Howard farms was to revitalise and fertilise the soil that had been degraded after decades of arable use.” Being financially stable was essential to, focusing on cutting down costing through implementing an 8-year crop rotation method to future proof the land, while reducing pest and disease pressure, thus making an environmentally and financially sustainable cropping system.
Ben has ambitions to continue building his farm efficiently by conducting soil tests, and though this is a lengthy and difficult process, the benefits, and proudness overrides anything. “Yes, it can be challenging and maintaining a balanced home and work life takes time, still my proudest moments are going to university to study and choosing a farm that was most suited for me during my placement year, though it was not close to home”.
Feeding the planet isn’t a simple ask, it’s complex and multi-dimensional yet, if you can be hands on, open minded and have patience within the process of building soil strength, crop growing and animal health, “anyone can join, because there are so many sectors in Agriculture, it’s an extremely diverse and progressing industry.”
Hattie Bryett is currently in her first year at Aberystwyth university, studying Agriculture with Animal Science. She is not a generational farmer, but someone who has a strong passion for farming and experiencing all the diverse roles.
“I’m eager to learn what this industry has to offer as I am still new and experiencing all the different roles. Since I discovered my interest within Agriculture in 2016, I have worked with horses, research cattle, sheep, and dairy and beef cattle.” Over time, Hattie has focused on genetic and artificial insemination, which she hopes to learn more about during her second year at university.
Most of Hattie’s work has been within the dairy industry where she started off on a smaller scale by milking twice a day and calving all year round. “I slowly moved onto a robotic dairy farm in Aberystwyth, where I learnt more about the benefits and deficits of the dairy industry, how robots can help, and more about calving. I would ensure the cows had gone into the robots to be milked twice daily, although majority did by themselves. Also, had to ensure all sheds were clean, checked that the robots had flagged up for mastitis (an inflammation of breast tissue) and treated them depending on their severity.”
She is now employed at a research unit with fistula ex dairy cows, whilst also being an employee at McDonalds. This gives her more opportunities to learn about produce from farming. “I have worked on the research unit since March 2023 and have really enjoyed learning what research can be done with different samples from the fistula cows.” Her experience opened an interest in research within Agriculture. “I ensure that the cow’s fistulas and paddocks are cleaned daily and resolve any problems quickly. Rotating their living space from a mix of indoor and outdoor which ensures that the welfare of animals is the best that it can be.”
Since her progression at the research unit, another opportunity arose from working for this farm, and this was to get qualified and assist in the 2023 lambing season. “This was something I had never done before, so I did find it quite challenging, yet it was incredible and made me very proud. After completing a course with ‘Embryonics’ and being awarded by ‘Lantra’, I got to lead and assist in the lambing season.” Though Hattie faced many challenges on the farm, she realised her journey expanded her knowledge for the better, and the feeling of accomplishment overrides anything.
Taking on the responsibility to drive positive change, Hattie hopes to educate and inspire others to experience farming from a different light, ensuring they have that confidence and motivation to learn about Agriculture and the benefits of farming. Hattie has the capability and drive to make a difference from the ground upwards. “Agriculture offers so many roles, so I really want to experience as many pathways as possible.”
“I’m very proud to be part of this new generation of farmers. I really hope to inspire as many young people that farming is open to everyone, particularly if you are keen to put in the hard work.”