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Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnanehttps://www.thatsfarming.com/
Catherina Cunnane hails from a fifth-generation drystock and specialised pedigree suckler enterprise in Co. Mayo. She currently holds the positions of editor and general manager at That's Farming, having joined the company in 2015.
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‘I decided to defer my course as I was anxious about not having a farming background’

That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, in conversation with Mountbellew ag student, Kate Connolly, in this week’s Student Focus segment

“I am a 21-year-old living in Tuam, Co, Galway. I do not come from a farming background; nobody in my immediate or extended family circle has a farm.

My interest in agriculture began during transition year in second level when I was 16.

Our school had not had an agricultural science class in 2-3 years, being an all-girls school.

When picking subjects, we tried to gather at least fifteen people to hopefully ensure it could be a subject available for our Leaving Certificate year. Thankfully it did, and my teacher at the time, Jane McAteer, was so passionate about the subject that it rubbed off on me.

In my 5th and sixth year, I picked up the agricultural student of the year title.

I never had any other career in mind; however, I was very conflicted about choosing a course in my Leaving Cert year.

Deep down, I knew I wanted to do an ag course but being a woman and having no background in farming; it took a lot of convincing within myself that I could do it and am capable of achieving in this field.

When applying for courses through the CAO, I knew that Mountbellew Agricultural College was the only place I wanted to be.

I stumbled across its agricultural and environmental management programme – which it delivers in conjunction with GMIT.

The course was my first and only choice on my CAO. When researching it, I was easily attracted to the fact that it is both a mixture of science/business and practical-based not only on the farm but also has lab work.

Kate Connolly is an agricultural and environmental management student at Mountbellew Ag College/ GMIT, Galway.

Mountbellew ag student 

However, I decided to defer my course as I was anxious about not having a farming background. However, I got over my fear and began my studies in 2020. That was the best decision I have ever made.

I am currently in my second year and hope to graduate in 2024.

I suppose I chose Mountbellew as it is known for being a good agricultural college with a range of courses and programmes. Also, it is close to where I am living, so that in itself was a bonus.

I am currently completing my second-year work placement in Teagasc Tuam, focusing on advisory.

A definite highlight has been meeting other students in the course not only because we have been online for the last two years and have not gotten the chance to socialise with each other but also because we all are interested in the same thing, and most have a passion for it.

The course did not meet my expectations in my first year due to the fact we had to do it from home.

The course is widely practical-based, and it was extremely difficult to have to sit and watch lectures online when all you want to do is try it yourself, especially because I have no farming background.

Overall though, I love learning the material in the course. I find that the environmental side of the course is really interesting and becoming a big topic in farming within the last few years.

The course covers a mixture of chemistry, plant and animal sciences, accounting, economics, law and farm safety, as well as an advanced look into animal and crop production – just to name a few.

Kate Connolly is an agricultural and environmental management student at Mountbellew Ag College/ GMIT, Galway.

Student life

It has been difficult starting college during the Covid-19 pandemic. Colleges have tried their best, but I feel that it can be difficult to keep motivated.

Also, it is harder to make friends or socialise as we cannot even see each other or work with each other.

It will be weird going into my third year of college and only knowing a handful of people in an already small course.

Kate Connolly is an agricultural and environmental management student at Mountbellew Ag College/ GMIT, Galway.

Women in ag

I can only speak for myself on this topic as I think it might not only be because I am a female, but because I have no agricultural background either.

Firstly, I know when working on farms, I have been told by some that I would not be “able for the work”. I do not know if it is a case of the fact I am too “delicate” or, to put it plain and simple, that some believe it is “a man’s job”.

In my view, the stereotype put on farming that it is dirty work and only meant for men has a huge impact on why more women do not enter the sector.

I think the stereotypes just need to be forgotten about. I do not think people are educated enough about farming and agriculture, in general.

Often, when people think of it, only one image comes to mind. Agriculture is a huge part of the economy and the environment.

I am currently trying to get summer work in New Zealand on a dairy farm.

After my course, I would like to become an advisor or inspector. Then, I want to return to college and complete a masters to become a lecturer.

Kate Connolly is an agricultural and environmental management student at Mountbellew Ag College/ GMIT, Galway.

Young people 

I think a lot of pressure is put on young people with a farming background to enter into agriculture as it is seen more as a way of life than a business.

There are so many jobs in the agricultural sector that do not involve the typical day-to-day runnings of a farm.

If a young person is really passionate about agriculture and wants to pursue it, they should take it and run with it; it is one of the best decisions I have ever made.

I want a job that I enjoy and wake up every morning, excited to go to work.”
See more Student Focus profiles.

To share your story like this Mountbellew ag student, email – catherina@thatsfarming.com

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