‘Seek out all opportunities, use all connections, gain as much experience as possible and strengthen your business acumen.’ This was the key advice given to Reaseheath College, Cheshire, agriculture students at a ‘Question Time’ discussion on post Brexit careers in farming and food production.

The event, sponsored by the Food, Drink & Agricultural Group of the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) and the Cheshire branch of the Institute of Agricultural Management (IAgrM), was organised by Reaseheath’s agricultural department. It delivered valuable advice on the opportunities available in a changing industry and how to build a successful career.

Over 80 undergraduates and Level 3 Extended Diploma in Agriculture students had the opportunity to quiz a panel of experienced advisors from across the supply chain.

John Giles (Chair of CIM’s Food, Drink and Agricultural Group and Divisional Director at Promar International), Lizzie Bonsall (Holstein Identification Quality Manager, Holstein UK), Coral Russell  (Crop Associations Manager, British Growers Association), Nikki McDougall (EU Business Manager, Genus) and Alick Jones (Regional Director, AMC) put forward their views on topics including  fresh ideas for farming, opportunities with technology, funding for a new business and how the government may support the food and farming industry in the future.

A question on whether it was more beneficial to gain a degree or go straight into work after studying to Level 3 provoked an in depth discussion, with the panel united in the benefit of a degree when job hunting.

John Giles advised: “If you were applying to Promar we’d certainly like you to have a degree. However, it won’t harm for you to work for a couple of years before you decide to do this. . This would give you time to think about the direction you want to go in and to make sure that your chosen degree will help you attain that goal.

Alick Jones was also a supporter of gaining experience before university. He said: “Form your own ideas, grow your contacts and keep your options open. This is your chance to look at businesses which interest you. Be aware that some companies like to build their own talent pools, and don’t dismiss apprenticeships.”

Whether to work on the family farm or to look elsewhere for that crucial first job also drew a range of answers, with the panel drawing on their own experiences.

Alick Jones advised: “Look carefully at what opportunities there are to develop your home business and make sure that your family are supportive and that finance is available.”

Lizzie Bonsall responded: “Having a farm business at home can give you an amazing opportunity to make your mark and a chance for responsibility you wouldn’t get in a bigger organisation. But it would also be a good plan to work elsewhere for a few years to gain knowledge and experience and then return home.”

Nikki McDougall also suggested that building up a skills set and then returning home was a good strategy, while Coral Russell encouraged those considering joining their family business to experience something completely different.

She said: “There are lots of opportunities in the fresh produce sector, from soil consultancy to retail, or even gain skills outside the industry such as marketing, languages or technology.”

On selecting industry placement, Coral advised students to look for a position which would challenge them while Lizzie advised: “Put everything into your industry placement, it can open so many doors. Be keen to learn and be motivated.”

John reminded the students: “A placement gives you an important opportunity to make yourself known to a company. Make sure you leave with a positive image as it will give you a head start if you want to get a job with them later.”

On the question of the dilemma posed by the potential scrapping of Single Farm Payments, Coral suggested that the government looked set to reward innovative farmers with sound business plans while Lizzie urged farmers to prepare for their future by adding value to their products and encouraging shoppers to ‘Buy British’.

John felt there would be more incentives for better environmental protection, water quality, soil quality and increased income from producing high quality, nutritious food, while Alick felt that the government would reward technology or sustainable schemes to manage climate change.

Summing up, John Giles confirmed: “With a Reaseheath qualification you are well on your way to getting a good job. You can work anywhere in the world. Your opportunities are limitless. Maximise your academic potential and make the most of every opportunity.”

The farm forum was chaired by Agriculture Lecturer Phil Gibbon.