Sophie Bell took a major leap of faith a number of months ago and decided to take a trek across the waters to the U.K. to further her education.
The 19-year-old Cavan native enrolled in Harper Adams University’s BSc Honours degree in Agriculture with Farm Business Management.
The four-year course will see Sophie graduate with her degree in 2021 and she is reassured that she has taken a step in the right direction, having made a move that many may be have been daunted by.
“I feel that the course suits my interest as I enjoy learning about agriculture inside and outside of the classroom, which is what this university offers on a daily basis,” Sophie told Catherina of That’s Farming.
“Since I live on a small family farm, I want to broaden my practical skills and experience by doing this degree at this university,” Sophie added.
Now in her first year, Sophie finds herself in what she regards as a “satisfying learning environment”. She is also keen to get involved in the university’s Land-Based Skills programme, which covers activities ranging from tractor driving and forklift truck operations/telehandler to stockmanship.
Sophie is always keen to lend a hand on the university farm when it comes to milking, lambing, calf-rearing and selecting stock for sale.
“I just want to gain some extra practical experience, as I find it very hard to find these opportunities at home. I have learnt so much already and I am looking forward to my placement in third year.” Sophie explained.
When asked about her move across the waters, Sophie admits that it was rather difficult to make the final move, but she has not regretted the major undertaking.
“It was hard, but I think it was definitely worth it. It didn’t take long for me to settle into the university, it has a very friendly atmosphere and the campus is in the middle of the countryside so it’s a home from home environment in a way!” Sophie explained.
Studying & Farming- A juggling act
Farming is an activity that Sophie has been involved in for as long as she can remember.
“I have been working on the family farm daily from a young age, I really enjoy it,” Sophie added.
Sophie’s home-farm in Cavan is operated on a small-scale and part-time basis, as the family have recently switched from sucklers to calf-to-beef finishing with Hereford-crosses.
“It definitely requires a lot less time in comparison to suckler farming, which works better for us, since it is a part-time farm,” Sophie told Catherina of That’s Farming.
In 2016/2017, Sophie took on a major responsibility of managing the farm with her mother, while her father was overseas and she was in Leaving Cert. Not daunted by the challenge, Sophie managed to strike a balance when it came to her commitments as a student and a farmer, although she admits that it was a juggling act.
“I found it hard to keep a balance between my studies and farm duties, as well as everything else, but it gave me a lot of experience. It was a challenging time for me as a result, but I was determined to achieve my grades needed to study at Harper Adams.” Sophie explained.
Sophie has steep involvements in the Agricultural circles and is a new member of the British Friesian Society in Shropshire.
Back home on Irish soil, Miss Bell is a member of the North Eastern Limousin Club, an organisation that she plays a very active role in- attending meetings, social evenings, sales and farm walks.
Along with juggling life as a full-time student and a farmer, Sophie relishes the idea of combining farming and creativity through the eyes of a lens.
Sophie has topped several photography competitions with her shots of farm animals and machinery. She boasts a large followership of 4,000 on her Agricultural themed photography page on Instagram.
Women in Ag
When asked about her involvement in Agriculture, as a young female, Sophie drew attention to the “uplifting” and “motivating” feedback that she has received from many individuals. Being in an environment, surrounded by fellow farming students that are fuelled with enthusiasm and sheer passion for the sector, has allowed her interest in Agriculture to flourish.
“On my course, the ratio of boys to girls is more or less equal, which shows how many girls there are that are interested in agriculture, which surprised me. The number is definitely continuing to rise, I see more and more girls getting involved, which is brilliant.” Sophie explained.
“At home, I found it quite daunting when I wanted to do something, such as go to a conference, ask questions at meetings, show cattle at shows, go to the mart and drive tractors, as I knew I would be the only young female there. I have developed more confidence in the past, as you get used to it.” Sophie explained.
Sophie is rather vocal when it comes to discussion about Women in Agriculture and she believes that the main challenge that farming females are facing is gender equality.
“People are quite surprised as to what some women are capable of and what their job is. “Women play such an important role in agriculture, promoting gender equality which is crucial in my opinion,” Sophie explained.
“I have seen so many inspiring girls all over social media sharing what they do and what we are capable of, it’s a great encouragement for young girls who are interested in agriculture,” Sophie added.
Advice-wise Words of Wisdom
Sophie proves herself as the ideal candidate to give advice to young aspiring farmers like herself.
“Don’t hold back on your passion and get going, don’t listen to anyone who’s going to put you down about working in this industry and don’t let anyone discourage you! Make sure you keep-up-to-date with media and social media.” Sophie explained.
“The industry offers such a wide spectrum of jobs, you can basically do anything from working in an office to working outdoors all day long, it’s up to you!” Sophie added.
The Bright Future
Sophie is a leading ambassador for Agriculture and wanted to invest her knowledge to help to shape the future of Irish Agriculture.
She has intentions to move back to Irish soil, once she has finished her degree programme and find a role in Irish Agriculture that will allow her to reach her full potential.
“I will be inheriting the family farm and applying many of the techniques, skills and knowledge attained at Harper, to the family farm,” Sophie explained.
Sophie would like to transform the family-run farm into a thriving business and is going to work her ways towards this major transformation.
“I am not fully sure what I want to do when I graduate in terms of employment since there is so much on offer with this degree. But for now, I would love to get involved in contracting, during the summer months.” Sophie concluded.
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