Farmers Apprentice 2020 finalists: Who made it through?

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Coming from a huge range of backgrounds – and with a diverse range of skills and attributes – here are the 10 finalists who will battle it out at what’s been described as “the toughest job interview in agriculture”.

They all have a few things in common though – they’re up for the challenge, keen as mustard to win and can’t wait to get cracking.

See also: Apprentice first as bootcamp goes on farm

What is Farmers Apprentice?

It is a competition open to all ambitious 18- to 25-year-olds, who want to pursue a career in farming, food or any of the ancillary industries.

Farmers Weekly partners with leading companies to run the initiative which awards a prize of £10,000 to the winner to spend on furthering their agricultural education or business.

See more information on the Farmers Apprentice website

Ben Sell, 22

Ben grew up on a farm in Essex, which he now runs with his older brothers.

The former Writtle student is the fourth generation of his family – “marking 126 years of heritage” – on the mixed farm, where he’s involved across the arable and livestock enterprises.

One of his previous roles was as a demonstrator for Ernest Doe. “I loved this experience. Demonstrating was awesome because I covered East Anglia, so saw many people, places and various farming practices, which was invaluable,” he says.

Ben is also active in Young Farmers and is Essex YFC county chairman – a post that his brother held nine years earlier and his late father held 40 years ago.

Interesting fact: Ben enjoys ploughing, commercially and competitively.

Charlie Tester, 18

Though not from a farming family, Charlie decided as a young teenager that the farming life was for him, so devoted all his “efforts, attention ad time” to following his dream.

He went on to secure a place at Brooksby Melton College and, through working on farms around his home county of Leicestershire, earned enough money to make his own foray into the industry.

“I ventured out looking for land and, after 30 phone calls, finally found 20 acres,” says Charlie, who now runs his own flock of 40 rare breed sheep in tandem with working part-time as a farm and stable hand.

Interesting fact: Charlie won the Sheep Young Stockperson of the Year 2019 at the East of England Winter Stock Festival.

Flori Catling, 24

A spell living in rural Australia made up Flori’s mind that she wanted to pursue a career in agriculture.

Having grown up in a London suburb and held various roles in sales, hospitality and the care sector, she headed Down Under, where she saw the Christmas harvest.

“It made me realise that farming was a passion that I’d really like to pursue,” says Flori, who hopes to one day manage her own holding.

“I also lived in a car for 10 weeks travelling the west coast of Australia, covering over 5,000km.”

She says she thrives in a fast-paced environment and never shies away from a challenge.

Interesting fact: Flori has been a vegetarian since she was eight, more recently becoming vegan.

Helena Eaton, 22

Helena has notched up more than two years’ experience on a small, open farm, working as a livestock assistant and welcoming the public and schoolchildren.

She’s now keen to make the next step and venture into the more commercial side of farming.

“It’s so hard to get your foot in the door,” she says. “As a female in a male-dominated industry, I worry I’ll never get the opportunity to be given a chance.”

Always up for new challenges, Helena entered the Apprentice because it represented “an amazing opportunity to extend my knowledge and find my feet.

“I understand my competitors would be those who have lived the farming lifestyle their whole lives, but I’ll give it my best shot.”

Interesting fact: Helena ran her own dog-sitting business.

Jess Palmer, 19

Royal Agricultural University student Jess is busy doing a degree in agriculture.

“Growing up, I have always been motivated to try my hardest, dream big and chase those dreams,” says Jess, who started a farming business at 16 when she bought a pair of Large White cross Landrace pigs.

“Since then I have expanded into sheep, which is the best and worst decision I ever made, because they’ve made me so happy – but now I can’t farm without them!”

She joined Somerset Army Cadet Force at 12, where she learned vital skills, became a Master Cadet and achieved the rank of Regimental Sergeant Major at 16 – the youngest ever in the county.

Interesting fact: Jess’s dad taught her the alphabet backwards before she knew it forwards.

Jess Langton, 20

A family-owned dairy and beef farm in Derbyshire is home to Jess, who’s studying Animal Science at the University of Nottingham.

“I like pushing my limits,” says Jessica who also works for Genus ABS and has won numerous Young Farmers stockjudging competitions. 

Interested in new technology – whether that’s drones or genetic improvement of animals and how it can improve agriculture’s efficiency and sustainability – she describes taking part in the Farmers Apprentice as “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hone my skills and broaden my knowledge of the agricultural industry”.

In her spare time, she likes to compete at local and county shows with her 15hh show hunter pony.

Interesting fact: Jess started showing calves with Holstein Young Breeders when she was five years old.

Jos Rowlands, 19

When he was growing up, Jos spent all his spare time on neighbouring farms before studying agriculture at Llysfasi.

Now living in Chester, he juggles two jobs – a dairy herdsperson and a customer assistant in a supermarket grocery department.

Both roles, he says, allow him to learn more about – and promote – the dairy sector, which he is passionate about.

“I have a thirst for adventure and for furthering my capabilities,” says Jos, who kept his own small herd of Texel lambs and wild boar cross pigs “for my own roast dinners” as a youngster.

He loves to work with horses in his time off and competes with Fenix Carriages, a horse team from Devon.

Interesting fact: Jos had a job with a funeral director.

Lucy Dickinson, 23

From the Lake District in Cumbria, Lucy lives on the family beef and sheep farm.

“I have recently taken control over the flock of 150 sheep from my dad,” she says. “My dream is to have my own farm with my own little farm shop and bakery.”

Lucy is a mum to a young son, plays second row for Barrow Ladies rugby league club and is chairman of Cartmel Young Farmers Club.

She’s a big advocate of the contribution farmers make to society. “They work day and night to produce the best and always aim to get better – carrying on even though times are hard and the future is unknown.”

Interesting fact: Lucy is a keen baker and constantly challenges herself with new recipes.

Rebecca Williams, 22

With the backing and encouragement of her parents, Rebecca recently launched a red deer enterprise on the family’s upland beef and sheep farm in Mid-Wales.

“With uncertainty in the red meat market, by being innovative I believe we can limit potential damage to the business by having as many strings to our bow as possible,” she says.

“I want to make my mark on the ground which has been in my family since 1904, and make them and myself proud of my achievements,” says Rebecca, who enjoys taking part in Young Farmers public speaking competitions.

“I want to improve my confidence and speak up as an example for young people and women in agriculture and be an asset to the industry,” she says.

Interesting fact: Rebecca is doing her fifth year as secretary of Edw Valley YFC.

Toby Smith, 20

Toby is on his placement at a large arable unit, before returning to Harper Adams University in October to complete his final year of study. 

Although not from a farming background, he first began working on a mixed Oxfordshire farm at weekends and during school holidays. Then, his appetite whetted, he studied at Moreton Morrell College, before heading to Harper.

“After graduating, I would like to travel to further my knowledge in this sector. Long term, I would like to look into a management position or potentially a tenancy opportunity,” he says.

Describing himself as “hardworking and responsible”, Toby is experienced operating big kit, including 200hp+ tractors.

“I’m constantly looking to further my knowledge,” he adds.

Interesting fact: Toby is a keen runner and is planning a 100km run.

The bootcamp experience

Bootcamp will test the finalists to the limit through a series of practical, technical and business challenges on a top Roxburghshire farm from 23-28 August.

All involved adhering strictly to government coronavirus advice and guidelines.

See farmersapprentice.co.uk to find out more about the competition, and keep up with the latest from bootcamp on Twitter and Instagram @farmersweekly #farmersapprentice

Farmers Apprentice is sponsored by:

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