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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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‘You do not have to be from a farming background to succeed in the agricultural industry’

In this week’s Women in Ag segment, That’s Farming, speaks to 24-year-old Niamh Bolton. She provides an insight into her studies at Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT), switching from pharmaceutical science to agriculture.

Niamh Bolton’s first CAO choice was pharmaceutical science which she began studying in 2016 before realising her true career interest lies in the agricultural field.

The 24-year-old was not born into a farm, but her introduction to the sector came in the form of helping sow potatoes on her uncle’s farm at the age of eight.

Waterford Institute of Technology

The Killeshin, Co Laois native, later decided to study agricultural science for her Leaving Certificate, which furthered her interest in the discipline.

“I also became very interested in the little Ferguson TED20 my father had at home. He received it from my uncle when he passed away in 2011 and repainted it and replaced worn-out parts; it is a great little machine.”

However, she believed her future would revolve around medical sciences, but that was not the case three months into her chosen course.

“After Christmas 2016, I found myself disinterested in the course and felt it was not the right path for me. I knew I loved science but did not know where to go from there.”

“After much thought and research, I realised agriculture and the science around agriculture was what I wanted to study. It was always an area I wanted to know more about.”

She deregistered from pharmaceutical science and reapplied to the CAO, listing the BSc in Agriculture course in WIT as her first choice.

Two agri degrees

She enrolled in its BSc in Agriculture course in 2017 and graduated with a Merit-Grade 1 following a virtual graduation in April 2021.

She then completed a BSc (Honours) in Land Management (in Agriculture) in September 2020, graduating in 2021 with first-class honours.

“I selected WIT as I had heard so many great stories from past and present students, and it seemed like such a welcoming place.

“I selected the agriculture course because I always found the area of agriculture so interesting. The course gave great insight into all aspects of agriculture.

“I do enjoy laboratory work and always enjoyed the lab work in the course. Furthermore, I love being hands-on and discovering new things.”

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Variety 

Both courses involved livestock management in many different forms throughout the years with a blend of business and IT modules.

“The practical modules allow you to be hands-on. Both courses are packed with different aspects of agriculture, ensuring each student leaves with an increased understanding of good practice on farms and the skills needed to work in an industry setting.”

“I found both college courses brilliant. The agriculture course immerses you into the on-farm activities such as livestock, crops, and machinery.”

“On the other hand, the add-on land management course focuses on the business side of things with statistics and web development. It also focuses on the environmental side of things with lectures emphasising sustainable cropping systems and a renewable energy module which I chose as one of my electives.”

“The variation in modules allows you to see the business side and the farm side, including the steps to agricultural sustainability. I have become extremely interested in this after basing my final year research project on potassium (K) levels in soils on dairy farms in my local area.”

Work placement at Greenfield Dairy Farm

The Laois native complete work placement on the Greenfield Dairy Farm in Co. Kilkenny in 2019.

Her primary duties included feeding calves, scraping cubicles, cleaning calf feeding equipment, cleaning/liming the calf pens, milking, and spreading minerals. Furthermore, she assisted with evening milkings and stayed on to help with the breeding season.

“I attended the weekly grass walks, which was very enjoyable, and learned quite a lot about grass covers.”

“I thoroughly enjoyed this work placement and enjoyed the hard work. Besides, I found great satisfaction from feeding the calves and watching them thrive; it is very rewarding work.”

“Before this work experience, I had minimal hands-on experience with farming, but I went into the placement ready to grow my skills; it was a truly amazing experience.”

“Getting to immerse myself into lectures with so many people with the same interests is a highlight. It made studying a lot more fun and interesting with so many different backgrounds and paths.”

“When you have a good group of like-minded people around you, it makes college life a lot more enjoyable.”

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Life after Waterford Institute of Technology

Currently, Niamh is job hunting and hopes to secure a position within the agricultural sector, possibly on-farm, in an office setting and a laboratory environment.

“The courses opened so many opportunities. Right now, I am looking at my options. I do not think further study is on the cards. Hopefully, I will find my feet soon.”

“My future plans are to stay in Ireland. I do hope to get a job and excel career-wise and have not thought much further than that. I am just taking each day as it comes and hope that I find my place soon.”

“My goal is to succeed within the industry in Ireland and enjoy what I do. To get to where I want to be and enjoy everything that comes my way, not taking life too seriously and just doing what I love. That is the main goal for me.”

Women in ag

“In recent years, the recognition for women has increased. Numerous articles allow women to have a voice and share their stories.”

“I do believe, though, that there is always room for more recognition for women considering this is a male-dominated industry and has been since the start of time. Women are doing outstanding work and taking the industry by storm; it is great to see.”

“I feel more women could be encouraged by seeing the women already involved in the industry. If a woman is thinking of starting their career in agriculture, I would tell them to go for it. “

“You do not have to be from a farming background to succeed in the agricultural industry. Many women (including myself) without a farming background have found their place within the sector.”

She stated that gender does not determine how successful you will be and that goes for any sector. “If you are determined, you will succeed; that goes for everything in life.”

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Rewarding work 

“The agricultural sector is full of hard work, but it is very rewarding work. You cannot beat the feeling of a sick calf thriving and joining the herd; moments like that that make it all worth it.”

“My life as a young person in agriculture has been rewarding. There have been many opportunities to grow and develop my skills, enabling me to become a strong, competent individual who can adjust to any environment and any situation.”

Her future outlook for agriculture is that further change is on the horizon, with a shift from old practices to more sustainable systems.

She said that farmers should educate themselves on new technologies and be ready to take on new challenges.

“The seminars/webinars and meetings held by so many organisations will shape Irish agriculture in the future, and it will be shaped sustainably,” the Waterford Institute of Technology graduate concluded.

To share your story, email – catherina@thatsfarming.com

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