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Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane hails from a sixth-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 firm during its start-up phase in 2015.
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‘I was repeatedly told by a few that I am incapable of pursuing a career in agriculture’

In this week’s Student Focus segment, Stephen Evans, 19, from Fintona, Omagh, Co. Tyrone discusses his non-farming background, studying at Harper Adam’s University and a career-changing scholarship.

Although I do not originally come from an agricultural background, I had developed a keen interest in farming from an early age.

My earliest memories of farming were working weekends at a family friend’s beef farm, where I learned the basics of animal husbandry and care for a herd of up to forty sucklers.

This experience led me to decide that farming was the area I was fond of due to my ability to work with the animals and care for them. This caused me to branch into a neighbouring dairy farm of 70 British Holsteins, where I developed a further understanding of how the sector works.

From working on these cattle-based systems, I learnt that I had a passion for animals and farming, in general. In August 2016, I travelled to Redgate Farm, an 800 British Holstein farm in Cambridgeshire, where I got my first experience of large-scale British farming.

On the ambition that I wanted to see the world from outside of Northern Ireland and explore the agricultural sector from various viewpoints, I decided to apply for Harper Adams University’s agriculture course.

The university is on a working farm that allows me to work and experience new techniques, technologies, skills and avenues, which greatly appealed to me.

1,000 sow birth to bacon unit

After completing a module, which involved visiting Harper’s pig unit, I decided that I wanted to explore the industry and seek further experience.

After the help of Harper Ireland, I was able to take a four-month external placement with SM Pigs Ltd in Sionmills, Northern Ireland, a 1,000 sow birth to bacon unit.

As this was the first-ever hands-on experience with pigs, I did not know what to expect, barring the knowledge I learned from previous lectures at Harper.

However, after completing my first week at SM Pigs, I became intrigued with pigs and the industry that they present.

pigs, pig farming, pig farmers, farming news


I enjoyed being able to work with animals. Every animal that you work with has its own personality. Working with them and creating a relationship to care for them is what I find most enjoyable.

The aspect that you can connect with an animal that has the same emotions and requirements as we humans do, minus the factor of being able to communicate verbally to you, is what intrigues me to work with them.

I find the stigma of not being accepted in the industry due to not owning a farm or coming from a farming background a challenge.

Personally, if you are interested and willing to work towards your goal, you should grab every opportunity that comes to you regardless of what people say, no matter how hard it presents itself.

I am a student member of the Ulster Farmers’ Union. I am passionate about the animal science side of agriculture as it enables me to see how each animal functions.

By being able to see how each individual animal works, it would, therefore, allow me to build my knowledge to use as I progress into the future so that I can maximise the performance of farm animals within the UK agriculture industry.


As I come from Northern Ireland, I wanted to see agriculture on many different levels throughout the world. Also, a Harper Adams is known for its connections globally, along with having a 98.8% graduate employment rate in recent years, I believed that Harper was the place for me.

As I had a keen interest in agriculture and wanted to keep my options open, I decided that the Agriculture BSc (Hons) degree was best suited to me.

It left my options open in the aspect that I could pursue a wide variety of careers after analysing each independent sector that UK agriculture offers via the systems that Harper Adams offers also.

Before completing my GCSEs, I applied to Greenmount Agriculture College CAFRE to get accepted. However, after achieving exceptional results, I decided to aim to complete my A-Levels and possibly reapply with additional qualifications.

After achieving my A- Levels, I had decided to apply to Harper Adams. I believed that it was best suited to me to get then accepted with a conditional offer, which was granted in August 2019.

Stephen Evans, farming news, dairy farming, pig farming, beef farming, dairy news, student, agri careers

Student scholarship

As part of my course, I am required to complete a year out within the agriculture sector. As Harper offers scholarships, I applied and got accepted to the For Farmers Pig Industry Scholarship.

This scholarship allows me to start my placement year with the company in its pig department, allowing me to experience the four key areas of their pig business.

These include the marketing department, technical department, young animal feed team, customer supply chain, and key accounts.

Being awarded this scholarship allows me to develop my knowledge that I received at Harper Adams and SM Pigs Ltd and use it as I progress in the pig industry.

My highlight whilst studying the Agriculture BSc (Hons) course at Harper is being awarded the Pig Industry Scholarship of 2021.

Student life 

The course is very good. I love all the modules as they bring in all the aspects of agriculture, from farm business management and economics to farm animal production sciences.

I also like the fact that one minute you could be in the classroom and the next on the farm or the field, experiencing the theory at first hand. Harper is predominately a hands-on university. Something that I noticed and admired when looking at the course in the first place.

The course is a four-year sandwich course. Two years in Harper Adams followed by a placement year in the agriculture sector, with a final year back at the university where I will mainly focus on my dissertation project.

The course over the four years is made up of twenty-three modules based on the foundations of agriculture, with every year being used to build our knowledge.

The first year of the course is predominately based on the same modules as the other agriculture courses. In second year, we branch out into specialised courses such as agriculture with animal science or agriculture with engineering.

dairy farming, dairy farmers, dairy news

A sector full of opportunities

When I graduate, I hope to extend my knowledge of the pig industry. I hope to do this in a company where I would hopefully have the opportunity to travel and see the world as it is.

More importantly, I would like to be able to see the different styles of farming that are present globally.

Therefore, as I progress into the future, I aim to increase my knowledge in the agriculture sector and increase my network, which I hope will enable me to meet new people and see what their aspect is on farming and how I can adapt to different views they see.

Agriculture is not just a sector that is all about milking cows, farrowing pigs, feeding sheep or going to the mart to buy and sell beef. It is so much more; agriculture is a sector that is full of opportunities.

From working in a meat processing plant as a carcase grader to working with lobbying companies such as Red Tractor or even as a farm manager.

If you feel like you want to pull on a boiler suit and wellies and get all mucky or even sit in an office and crunch numbers to get an agri-business tax returns completed, then do it.

Higher and better every time 

Agriculture is a name given to a sector with endless opportunities and career paths. Leave your options open. Test and try; if you like it, go for it; if not, go for the next option.

My ultimate goal is to have a potential job where I can work up the company ladder with the opportunity to manage and direct a particular team potentially.

I am a 19-year-old who comes from Northern Ireland who has no background in agriculture. I was repeatedly told by a few in the industry that I am unfit and incapable of pursuing a career in agriculture.

However, after getting accepted into Harper Adams and having just received a remarkable scholarship, I aim higher and better every time.

In conversation with Catherina Cunnane, editor of That’s Farming

Are you a student? To share your story, email – [email protected]

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