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Richard Gibson – CAFRE Alumni

My name is Richard Gibson and I graduated from CAFRE in 2014 with a BSc in Agricultural Technology. The blend of classroom and practical learning that I experienced, has led me through a varied and interesting career pathway to date and most recently I have taken up appointment as a CAFRE Dairying Development Adviser for South Antrim. My main role is to facilitate three Business Development Groups within the Eastern Dairy Team.  It is pleasing to now have the opportunity to facilitate the sharing of knowledge and skills within the farming industry through the Business Development Groups (BDGs) scheme.   

I first attended Greenmount from 2009-12 completing a Higher National Diploma (HND) in Agriculture (replaced by the Foundation Degree in Agriculture and Technology). Coming from a beef and sheep farming background, I had a passion for farming from a young age and knew that I wanted to pursue a career in agriculture. At sixteen I started my own sheep flock, and I was able to use the technical knowledge I learnt at Greenmount to help me to develop and expand. During my time at Greenmount, I built the flock up to 100, predominantly Suffolk-cross ewes.  

Following on from the HND course, I spent another year at Greenmount and a further year at Queens University, completing a BSc in Agricultural Technology, graduating with a 2:1 degree. With the combination of both courses, I felt that I had gained both the practical experience and technical knowledge for a successful career in the agricultural industry. Although I didn’t have specific job aspirations while at Greenmount, I knew I wanted a role where I would be making a contribution for the overall benefit of the Northern Ireland agri-food industry. 

After graduating, I moved to Brussels, where I initially worked as an intern for Diane Dodds MEP, following agriculture matters at EU level. I was responsible for the agriculture elements of Mrs Dodds’ work in Brussels as she was a full member of the Agri Committee. My role included attending meetings with and on behalf of Mrs Dodds, writing briefs and speaking notes and writing reports on issues covered during committee meetings.  I also frequently wrote press releases for local farming newspapers. 

This was a 6 month internship but as I had developed a taste for EU related work and decided to stay on in a role with the European Dairy Association, the main lobby group in Brussels representing the European Dairy Processors. This overall experience provided me with a clearer understanding of the dairy industry within Europe and even on a global scale. I was able to see first-hand how the dairy industry dealt with the challenges of change and how it is essential to pursue and develop new market opportunities for the long term sustainability of producers and processors alike.  

Following a year and a half in Brussels, I took up the post of farm liaison officer with Aurivo Co-op, managing their 90 supplier milk pool in Northern Ireland. The role involved providing daily support to farmers, covering issues like total bacteria counts, somatic cell counts, thermodurics, antibiotics and milk compositional quality. I was also responsible for co-ordination of all of Aurivo suppliers in the Red Tractor Quality Assurance scheme.  

While working with Aurivo, I also completed an MSc in Business for Agri-Food and Rural Enterprise. The course is delivered by CAFRE in conjunction with Queens University and was a three year part time course, studied at Loughry Campus.  For my thesis, as part of the course, I carried out an investigation into the key factors that influence new entrants into dairy farming and expansion of existing dairy farms. 

After five years in Aurivo, I have recently joined CAFRE in a professional capacity as a Dairying Development Adviser.  As I set out to help the members of my three Business Development Groups get the most from the training opportunities within the BDG programme and to develop their farm businesses through benchmarking, business planning and adopting new ideas and technologies, I reflect on the courses of study that I undertook at CAFRE.  Already these have provided me with exciting career opportunities at home and abroad and have most recently helped me in successfully landing my current role in CAFRE. 

The BDG Scheme is part funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD).