Record number of girls on Borders College farming course

Stephanie Crozier is one of a record number of young women who have enrolled on an agriculture course in the Scottish Borders.

Having grown up on a farm near Hawick, the 16-year-old has known from an early age where her future lay.

Now she is one of 12 female students on the National Certificate (NC) Agriculture at Borders College. There were just six last year.

It’s a trend which is being seen on similar courses across the country.

Women make up 46% of the students on agriculture courses run by Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) at campuses across the country – up from 42% in 2020/21.

Stephanie said: “Everyone in my family has been involved in farming to some degree.

“When I was younger I used to help out on my granny and grandpa’s farm, before they retired.

“I could never see myself working in an office, I just love being outside too much, and I hope that my future will be in agriculture.”

Prior to the pandemic, Borders College struggled to make its rural skills programme viable. Just 10 students enrolled on the NC Agriculture course in 2019/20.

But lecturers are now reporting their highest ever numbers – with almost half of them being teenage girls.

Rural skills head Andrew Johnson said: “We’ve always had girls applying but never in the numbers were are seeing now.”

Some of the agriculture students with their lecturers
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Girls make up around half of the NC agriculture students at Borders College.

As well as the 25 students who are currently studying NC Agriculture at Borders College, there are a further 18 who are enrolled on the National 5 Modern Agriculture course.

The Newtown St Boswells campus also supports 12 agriculture and mixed farming apprentices.

Mr Johnson added: “I have taught agriculture for years and we often struggled to attract enough for a cohort to make the course worthwhile.

“It is wonderful that we have a record 25 students on the NC course this year – and it’s even more wonderful that almost half of them are girls.

“There are jobs out there in agriculture and the industry needs young people to drive it forward.”

Last year that the UK government’s Environment, Food and Rural Affairs committee warned that the farming industry faced permanent damage if solutions could not be found for the lack of available workers.

With Covid and Brexit being blamed, a review into rural labour shortage was also carried out at Holyrood.

The Scottish government had previously launched a Women in Agriculture taskforce in an attempt to break down barriers that had prevented women making an impact in the agriculture sector.

Student Bethany Scott
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Student Bethany Scott enjoys the agriculture course even when its windy and raining

Not all of the young women on the Borders College course have farming backgrounds.

Bethany Scott, 17, from Newtown St Boswells had no agricultural experience before signing up for an animal care course.

She said: “When I was doing animal care I would see the agriculture students always out and about and doing the practical things that I enjoyed the most.

“We’re always busy on the agriculture course – it’s never boring.

“Even when it’s raining and really windy, farming is still fun.”

Borders College managers are confident the upwards trend for enrolment in agriculture courses will continue with 18 school pupils already taking part in their agriculture pathway programme.

Emily Mulligan from Newtown St Boswells
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Emily Mulligan from Newtown St Boswells

Since becoming an agriculture student Emily Mulligan has secured part-time work at the local auction mart.

The 19-year-old from Newtown St Boswells would recommend farming to any undecided school pupils.

She said: “I’ve already learned to drive a tractor and a quad bike, as well as how to work with animals, build walls and even do fencing.

“I haven’t lived on a farm for eight years but I quickly fell in love with farming again when I started on the course.

“For me, it’s a really positive career choice.”

Student Jessica Damerell
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Student Jessica Damerell from Lauder

Fellow NC Agriculture student Jessica Damerell grew up working on the family sheep farm near Lauder.

The 17-year-old said: “I didn’t enjoy school so when I learned there was an agriculture course I jumped at the chance of joining.

“I am learning so much on this course and I definitely want to pursue farming as a career – I love being outside.”

NFU Scotland has welcomed the upturn in interest in the sector.

Policy assistant Lucy McGillivray said: “It’s fantastic the courses have high enrolment figures, as it reflects the passion young people have for agriculture and their desire to learn more.

“I took a slightly different route into agriculture, where I studied law and management as my degree, but I am now studying a postgraduate diploma in Agricultural Professional Practice to expand my knowledge in agriculture.”

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