Guildtown Primary School
SRUC Edinburgh, Kings Buildings
Agronomist & AgriTech Specialist
James Hutton Institute
I’m an Agronomist and Agri-Technologist at crop, soil and environmental research centre The James Hutton Institute, and when not at work I help out on my family farm in rural Perthshire
I grew up on my family farm in rural Perthshire and still live and work on it in my spare time, so I have an understanding of agriculture and farmers that I bring to my job with experience in managing cereal crops, potatoes and oilseed, including practical work like operating tractor and combine harvester.
I am lucky enough to have my own house on the farm, which is great for having friends round for bbq’s. For time not taken up with farming I am a season ticket holder for St Johnstone FC (domestic cup double this year!) and play the bagpipes in Carnoustie pipe band
I’m an Agronomist and Agri-Technologist at James Hutton Institute, linking science and practical farming
To summarise, I provide a link between the scientists and the farm team.
I translate the science into a format that our Field Trials Officers can easily apply and put into practice, whether that’s trial layouts, seed or fertiliser rates, or testing different chemicals in different areas. It ensures what’s going on in the fields matches the academic side and ensures all the clever work done by scientists is tested in practice.
I also contribute to the ecological sciences department, where I have input into projects, report writing and data processing from large scale field trials. As well as my wealth of knowledge from my degree in agriculture and professional qualifications, the scientists also benefit from my first-hand farming experience which can help to avoid any practical issues that might have been missed out if it was purely academic input.
With visits and through some projects I am involved in engaging with farmers in support of the science, whether to explain the trials work to interested parties or integrating them into project work for large scale monitoring programmes.
My Typical Day:
My role is mainly ensuring the 270 hectares of the institute’s farm are maintained to facilitate the research in fruit, cereal, legume and potato trials.
Typical day starts with a walk round the different crops on farm, to stay on top of all the important inputs, check pests and diseases and make sure that our timings are correct for the work going on. Notes taken on crop walk is then written up as a report and any work to be done is passed on to the farm team to apply, and the recording system is kept up to date as the work carried out.
Thereafter it my days can be varied and takes some discipline to make sure I prioritise the things that need done. It could be project work – farmers to contact for questionnaires, presentations to prepare/deliver for events, comments/input for research papers – or helping out the farm team – checking equipment, organising for buying inputs or scheduling soil analysis to make sure the soil is in good health.
The qualifications required for this job are:
Requirements for the job are BASIS Certificate of Crop Protection, which is best done once in work and often trainee positions are available for new Agronomists to work toward this.
BSc Agriculture degree gives a very good grounding and background for this professional qualification and is often a requirement for the trainee positions. (I stayed an extra year and did BSc Hons)
Where I studied (SRUC) there was opportunity for students to start at HND level and move on to BSc if they attained this, meaning that there wasn’t so much pressure on grades before studying the subject you were really interested in. – this really helped me.
How I got into this job:
I had practical experience from the family farm and applied for a Field Trials Officer position at James Hutton Institute after graduating from university.
This role was as a tractor driver for sowing, managing and harvesting trials which I did for three years, which suited my skills and developed my knowledge of practical work in crops and machinery I hadn’t worked on before. After three years, a position opened in the same company as Chemical and Fertiliser Applications Officer to manage the inputs applied to trials and on the 270ha farm, including managing staff in coordination with farm manager.
As I progressed with BASIS (plant protection) and FACTS (fertiliser) advisers qualifications which was supported by the workplace, my current role developed with time split between farm and research. Not a straightforward pathway but one that has developed over time and I think it has been important to do the practical jobs build up my skills and experience in order to get to the position I am now in – gaining a university degree gives you all the tools to be successful in the job, it is experience added to this that brings competence and confidence.
Why did I choose this job:
Have always been interested in field trials and trying out things on my own farm, and was always looking at new developments and opportunities to try out.
University degree included a dissertation which meant carrying out a field trial and writing up a report, which I found really interesting and sparked an interest. There was a little bit of good fortune around my first job coming up which best suited my skills as I had tried for a few other related jobs and they were focussed on lab work which was not my strong point. It was actually my parents that spotted the advert and pointed me towards it, so I really have them to thank – just shows you should listen to the people that know you best.
Experiences this job has given me that I might not have got elsewhere:
Travel across Europe, including visiting agricultural events and, during lockdown, project conferences including people from Ireland to Romania!
Experience in so many crops – 47 different protocols including novel crops like lentils, hops, lupins and soya which are very rare in Scotland
Something a bit different – Workplace facilitated a sabbatical in 2019/20 which other farming jobs wouldn’t facilitate – had 6 months working for British Antarctic Survey from Oct2019 to April2020 as plant operator which gave me the chance to go to the Antarctic continent.