Writtle farming students set to reap what they sow

STUDENTS from six agricultural colleges are battling it out to grow the best crop of winter wheat and win �1,000 in the Cereals Challenge 2012.

Among the six is a team from Writtle College in Chelmsford, all of whom are in their final year.

Also competing are Askham Bryan College, Bishop Burton College, Harper Adams University, Lincoln University and Newcastle University

Writtle team leader John Boothroyd, whose dad is an independent agronomist in Cambridgeshire, says he thinks the challenge will be a really good experience.

Also in the team is William Juhl, whose father farms at the Littlebury Farming Partnership in Saffron Walden.

“I can challenge my dad if I win the competition and have some banter with him about having a trophy he hasn’t got,” he said.

Craig Gemmill, who’s doing a BSc Hons in Agriculture, said: “I’m looking forward to having practical experience and put into place what I have learnt in college.”

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The fourth team member is Darren Kent.

The challenge, launched on February 15, aims to encourage a new generation of farmers and agronomists by giving them a plot of wheat to manage and sell. It is organised by farm business management company Velcourt and crop production specialists Hutchinsons.

The winning team receives a trophy, a prize of �1,000 to share, and �500 for the winning college.

The six plots are on the site of the Cereals event in Boothby Graffoe in Lincolnshire. Winner are announced in June.

Judges Keith Norman, Technical Director at Velcourt, Dick Neale, Technical Manager of Hutchinsons, and Alastair Priestley, of Patrick Dean Ltd, Cereals’ host farmer, will look at each team’s technical merit, gross margin and quality and timeliness of recommendations.

This year’s six teams were chosen in a random draw from 12 that applied. Last year Newcastle University scooped the prize and this year’s team leader Henry Ward is hoping to win again.

He says: “It’s a practical application of the theory we’ve learnt in lectures and I think I have an advantage as I took part last year. The competition was really close in 2011 so I’m not taking it for granted – we’ve got the worst plot this year too!”

Ken Shipley, Farms Director for the north and north east at Velcourt, says: “We run a scheme to train graduates to be Farm Managers and are actively looking for bright, enthusiastic students to join the company. The Cereals Challenge is an excellent opportunity for us to meet youngsters looking for a career in farming.”

Mike Young, Manager of the Hutchinson Foundation, the industry-leading agronomist development programme, says: “We feel it is very important for us to work closely with colleges and universities. We want to support the new entrants that are joining the industry and offer them the best opportunity to develop a career in agronomy through our unique Hutchinsons Foundation Training Programme. This is an exciting opportunity for the students to get a feel for the role of an agronomist. Like all things the more you put in the more you get out of it.”