Last year Ross Edwards was named the winner of Agricultural Student of the Year at the British Farming Awards. Danusia Osiowy finds out how student life, travel and the family farm equipped him with the skills to begin a new farm management role.
The morning after Ross Edwards was announced as the Agricultural Student of the Year at last year’s British Farming Awards he flew out to New Zealand to fulfil one of his ambitions.
Kicking off with a two-month placement on the Canterbury Plains in Christchurch, he milked on a 940-cow spring calving, grazing herd before travelling the rest of the country with his friends from Harper Adams University.
Ross, who graduated last year with a first class honours degree, says: "Working at the dairy farm was interesting, especially to see a grass-based dairy unit and see the contrast to my experience of the higher input systems which worked on in the UK.
“After working, one of my Harper Adams housemates and I travelled pretty much all of New Zealand from the most southern point of South Island to the northernmost tip of North Island, buying a 20-year-old Nissan Bluebird and racking up 12,000km in five weeks. We met up with other university friends along the way.
“After this I stopped with three different Harper friends in Australia for two weeks, doing a whistle stop tour of the east coast from Cairns to Sydney. It was a big shock landing in Heathrow at the end of February.
"My brother had done a similar trip 10 years before and ever since I saw his pictures, this was something I wanted to do and see for myself.
Before embarking on his travels, Ross had secured a trainee farm management role with Velcourt, having already completed a scholarship with the firm during his time at Harper. But before taking on the permanent role, he went to Newton Rigg College, Penrith, as interim farm manager for three months while the manager was on medical leave.
"My role is to manage all aspects of the farming business. I’m responsible for six members of staff and also have night milking contractors in. My role will vary from accounts and budgeting, cropping plans, feeding cows, relief milking and all compliance measures.”
As he looks forward to settling into his new role, he appreciates farming is ultimately a business enterprise which needs to make significant profit for those involved.
"I am aware farming cannot only be a way of life but a business enterprise which has to make a profit. Agriculture is going through challenging times with huge price volatility. With an increasing population and no more land, this brings a massive challenge to balance food and fuel production with environmental preservation.
“There is also much optimism that I am keen to be involved in and embrace these opportunities with efficiencies being key to every farm business.
The youngest of four brothers on the farm, Ross helps his father run 110 pedigree South Devons and 550 ewes across 135ha (330 acres), selling directly to local butchers. Although the farm can accommodate his father and one brother full-time, Ross has been helping out in his other brother’s agricultural building business.
“After I graduated I helped my brother, who has his own shed-building business, and during the summer we commuted to Worcester from Devon each week to build a modern 150-cow dairy unit with potential to accommodate three robots. The build was on a green field site and included silage clamps and a slurry lagoon.”
His new role sees him in charge of a 490-cow milking enterprise
His new role will see him manage all aspects of a farming business, with six staff members
The home farm led to his love for Texel sheep and he started his own flock at the age of 10 after his father bought him his first ram. He has since built numbers to 35 pedigrees, breeding for private and pedigree sales.
He says: “It was our pocket money. We all got one and then it was up to us to buy and sell the rest.”
Securing a scholarship with Velcourt in 2013, Ross spent his 12-month work placement on a 1,580ha (3,900-acre) farm estate in Dorset, helping run 1,000 dairy cows across two units, plus 2,500 Romney sheep and 400 beef stores.
He says: “Working on this scale was useful and was 10 times the size of the family farm. I learnt how to plan, budget and develop a business ethos.”
During his time at Harper, Ross was chairman of the weekly forum, which welcomed 20 speakers from the industry over the course of the year. It was through this he was chosen to represent the university at the Oxford Farming Conference and he was also a co-finalist in the Institute of Agricultural Management farm planning group. He was also awarded the Top Student in Agriculture award for achieving 74 per cent across all modules.
Open to all agricultural students studying in UK, entries are still open for Agricultural Student of the Year. We are looking for individuals who can offer examples of their determination and self-motivation for agriculture and student life. Candidates will be able to demonstrate a commitment to agriculture outside of academic life and understand the challenges and opportunities within UK farming.
Ross entered following a nomination from his senior tutor at Harper Adams, Russell Readman.
"Having done so, I am pleased my hard work and determination has been recognised. I am not a person who makes a scene about working hard and tend to keep my head down and work away, therefore it is nice to be recognised.
“It was a great feeling to win and an awesome way to finish my student life; I loved every minute of. It has boosted my confidence to make me believe I can achieve my personal goals. Not forgetting I made my parents very proud.“It has definitely given me recognition in the industry and has made my CV stand out.
Also, indirectly as a result of my hard work, which I gained this award for, Robbie Taylor of Velcourt has seen my determination and given me the opportunity to be a farm manager at 23 years old and, with their support, I will work hard to drive the business forward.”
For more info or to enter, please go to www.britishfarmingawards.co.uk