Although Charlotte Houston does not hail from a farming background, the 18-year-old aspires to run her own farm someday.
She has a desire to farm in an “environmentally friendly manner, producing high-quality free-range speciality products”.
The Straid native’s interest in agriculture was ignited as a child. “My parents always encouraged my siblings and I to be active and get out into the great outdoors,” she told That’s Farming.
“I always had a love for animals from a young age, but I wasn’t brought up on a farm, so I wasn’t working with animals daily.”
Joining a Young Farmers’ Club, coupled with childhood memories on her friend’s farm, sowed the seed for Charlotte.
“We moved to a new house in 2010 to a more rural village where one of my friends lived on a farm. I have very fond memories of us going out exploring her farm whenever I visited.”
Charlotte’s interest in farming influenced her decision to study agriculture as a GCSE. After completing her GCSEs, she enrolled on the Level 3 Advanced Technical Extended Diploma in Agriculture in CAFRE Greenmount campus in 2019.
“I did not wish to study A levels at school, and I wanted to start a career in agriculture. This course was the best option for me to achieve this through study and practical experience.”
The diploma is a mixture of coursework and practical skills. “In first year, I completed sheep, dairy and business management modules. I have also learned estate skills and farm machinery skills.”
When commencing this three-year diploma, Charlotte had no experience with machinery, but she gained some by volunteering.
“As a volunteer, I have helped several local farmers during lambing and as a relief milker. Not coming from a farming background, I found it very challenging at the start of the course.”
“I was always very nervous about the machinery side. As the course has continued, I have developed skills and confidence.”
“With extra practice and concentration, I was delighted to gain my tractor, quad and telescopic handler qualifications earlier this year.”
Currently in her second year and set to graduate in June 2022, Charlotte explained that farming will allow her to become an independent businesswoman in the future.
“I am currently on a one-year work placement on a farm in Northern Ireland. The highlight of my first year on the course was being one of seven CAFRE students selected to be part of the BBC Countryside College programme which was recently on television.”
“I was one of the students chosen to participate and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.”
Charlotte revealed the Covid-19 pandemic had an impact on her studies as lectures commenced online in March instead of a classroom environment.
“I found this challenging within a busy family home, with my sisters and my dad working and studying from home as well. My mum has continued working in the hospital during these challenging times.”
Women in agriculture
Charlotte believes there should be even more female role models in the agricultural sector.
“If I am honest, I don’t believe they are as women are still generally seen as their role to be within the home rather than on the farm.”
“Agriculture provides women with a healthier outdoor lifestyle and there are many diverse roles within the agricultural sector to choose from.”
“It has been a struggle for other people to take me seriously in the career I want to pursue. I am slowly changing others attitudes towards my abilities.”
Looking ahead, when she completes third year, and achieves her qualification, the 18-year-old plans to go to New Zealand to gain at least a year’s experience working on a dairy farm. Long-term, her ultimate goal is to have her own farming business.
“I have found that the farming sector is a heavily male-dominated industry. I feel the extra need to prove I am equally capable. Determination, passion and commitment are essential to succeed in agriculture.” she concluded.
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