If you’d have told me when I was younger that I’d be going to university at the age of 38, I simply wouldn’t have believed you! But that’s exactly what happened. In 2008, I was made redundant due to the credit crunch. I had been working in the motor trade in the Midlands. But it made me re-assess my life and took me on a different path, one which ultimately has turned out to be infinitely better.
“It’s about turning a negative into a positive”
I’d spent many years growing vegetables in the back garden, living in a rural environment, and I had friends who were farmers. I wanted to go back to my roots, so to speak! So I embarked on a full-time degree in horticulture at Nottingham Trent University for the next three years, as a mature student. It turned out to be one of the best things I have done. I think it’s brilliant that big life events such as redundancy and COVID are inspiring those who thought they’d left education behind to start studying again.
I graduated six years ago, where I spent the next four years as a trials agronomist. I also worked at Eurofins for a couple of years which gave me a very quick education in the agricultural side of things. It was a good learning experience; an invaluable lesson on agronomy. In September 2019, I then took the plunge and became self-employed, where I became the head gardener for a manor house in Derbyshire. Unfortunately, the pandemic handed me my P45.
I was looking for work around Derbyshire but nothing was forthcoming. At the time, we were visiting relatives in Cornwall. While we were there, my wife spotted a job as a farm manager on an estate on the south coast, which specialised in seed pressing to produce cold pressed oils such as hemp and sunflower oil. I submitted my application and went through the interview process, all while on holiday. By the time we were driving back home up to Derby, I was offered the job. Six weeks later, we moved 300 miles down to Padstow.
But I was looking for more. Then, out of the blue, I got a phone call from an HR company about this amazing lighting technology company, based of all places in Derbyshire, where I had just moved from! They were looking for an account manager. I jumped at the chance. I’ve always been interested in the technological side and the fact that we’ve got an ever-increasing population which we need to find a way to provide food for via land that’s continually decreasing. I started with LST in June last year. I’m still in Cornwall and loving it.
“There’ll always be demand for agricultural skills”
Now, I’d tell my 21-year-old self to go back to uni and change career immediately. I left uni halfway through my second year, so I never finished my degree. I would say get into agriculture, it’s an industry that will always be running and there’ll always be demand for people with those skills. It will give you job security if nothing else.
“Farmers are seeing the need to change to increase production and improve efficiencies”
It’s been a perfect storm, with Brexit, supply chain problems and COVID. Now we’ve got energy prices going up as well. This is another thing which we’re trying to help with. Using LEDs is so much more energy efficient. With our bespoke range, what we can do is actually create lighting recipes which provide the lighting to whatever the crop needs rather than providing a broad spectrum, which reduces energy costs. Over the long term, we’ve proved there’s a huge saving to be made in energy and time by embracing the technology that’s coming through. And it’s continuously progressing and improving. I think that farmers are starting to see that they need to start changing things to increase production and get better efficiencies out of the way they work.
It is a form of re-education, that’s why we have the lab set-up in Derby. We take people through what we can do, how we work and what we’re trying to achieve and how we can actually help them. The main goal for us as a company is to bring more sustainable practices into the sector, but also to make things more accessible to growers. So, they can find out what the best crop option is, what the best plant recipe is, how we can help them with notification, or what different environment controls can affect the crops they’re growing.
“We’re going to see a potentially big game changer”
What we’re going to see coming out over the next year or two could be a big game changer. And it should hopefully bring more cropping back to the UK to make us more independent, less reliant on European crops especially over winter and more food security.