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UCAS Listings: `It was designed to cover a lot of ground - it was hard work'

Economics, conservation, marketing and animal science were all covered in Diana Pritchard's agricultural degree
Conservation is going to be far more in the forefront of farmer's minds in the future, according to agricultural student, Diana Pritchard. Diana has just graduated with a BSc Hons degree in agriculture and land management from the Royal Agricultural College in Cirencester, and is now hoping to embark on a career in agricultural consultancy before eventually taking over her parent's farm in Shropshire.

"The need for conservation has become an integral part of the course," says Diana, who went to the college as a mature student after working in both this country and abroad. She has, over the summer, set up a number of conservation projects on her home farm.

"Conservation will play a much greater role and farmers will have to consider environmentally sensitive methods to justify the subsidies they receive," she says.

Before joining the college, Diana worked on farms in America, China and Africa. She says most of the students on her course - which was far more theoretical than practical - had some experience of the practicalities of working on a farm. "Most of us could drive tractors," she says. The course, she says, was varied and intensive. "It was designed to cover a lot of ground, and it was extremely hard work."

Agriculture now is a huge industry and to be a success, detailed knowledge of crop science, modern farming methods, business plans, marketing and land management is required.

There is far more to running a farm or working in the agricultural industry than meets the eye. Diana says: "The course was run on a modular system. We covered current EU requirements on the environment - some members of the course went to visit the European parliament - economics, marketing, agricultural development, animal science, crop science management... You name it, we covered it!"

She says the course was ideal because each student could tailor the course by choosing modules to suit their own needs. Diana specialised in wheat and maize production.

The course can be run over three or four years, including a sandwich year.

Diana says: "Many students went overseas for their year out, and I was lucky enough to get a placement at the International Research Centre for Wheat and Maize Improvement in Mexico. It was wonderful living out there - and the research was fascinating - in to genetic modifications in wheat and maize and their hybridisation."

The course did not involve the highly practical aspects like tractor driving, land spraying, dry-stone walling and farm mechanisation, but the college offers these as short land-based courses. Others members of her course have gone back to run their own farms, or in to estate management, marketing or overseas agricultural consultancies. Diana is now carrying out a research project for the college, and aims to set up a freelance consultancy.

While most people automatically associate agricultural colleges with farming, the courses offered are much more varied.

Paul Williams is currently taking an honours degree in landscape and amenity management at Writtle College in Essex, which follows on very neatly from his five years working for a local council in the parks department. "I wanted a qualification which would improve my career prospects. In the first year we covered landscape maintenance, mechanisation, biochemistry, pests and diseases. Last term we also did lots of management theory," he says. Paul admits he has found the course "a struggle", but says it is extremely well taught.

Like Diana's course, students go out on lots of visits but most of the course is taught through lectures. Paul did get his hands on a tractor, however, as the course offers tractor driving skills and mechanisation. But he managed to crash it.

Paul says: "There is the possibility of a year out on a work placement, and lots of people go abroad, but I feel I need to get on and get back in to industry."

In future he hopes to work in the development of parks.

"We now have heritage parks - they're much more trendy than they used to be," he says.

"There is quite a lot of lottery funding for development, and my own feeling is that parks should be much more natural - not all neat rows of bedding plants, but wild-flower meadows and wide open spaces."