Professional Work Experience Internships Progress Despite Disruptions

Image Credit: Donal O’Gorman

Students from the Dairy Business, Food and Agribusiness Management, Animal & Crop Production and Animal Science courses gave Hannah Woods an insight into the progress of their PWE, the effects of lockdown on their current plans and their future hopes.

Third-year is a personal milestone for the Agricultural Science students of UCD. It allows undergraduates the opportunity to learn in a practical way, make connections, and develop their career path for after college, be it on the farm, in industry, or in research. The pandemic has not only changed Professional Work Experience (PWE) plans but has made the planning process arduous and disheartening for many.

Dathal Kent is a Cork native studying Food & Agribusiness Management (FAM). UCD has allowed Kent to make serious strides in becoming heavily involved in all activities Ag Soc related, from being a member of the winning Great Agri-Food Debate team last year to running for the society position of Treasurer. “Having suffered the blow in September that we were not going to be returning to on-campus classes for the first semester, my thoughts immediately turned to placement and the unknowns surrounding it”. Like many FAM students, Kent hoped to go abroad not only travel, but gain experience, and get as much as he could out of PWE. When college came around last Autumn the stress of going online again was compounded with the burden of finding “a suitable placement at what was such a difficult time for companies”.
After a series of virtual interviews, Kent got a promising placement with Interchem Ireland Ltd. “I started virtually in mid-January due to the tightening of cCvid restrictions, but this did not dampen my enthusiasm”. Through a series of orientations, group calls, and individual meetings, Kent was quickly introduced to the company’s products, giving him an unparalleled look into the enterprise, where he has found himself working in all sections of the business; from sales calls, to logistics and market research. “It is a market that really interests me and the fact that I am getting trained by experts in their field on products and animal care will be a real asset to me in the future”, where he looks forward to taking on larger roles within the company and experiencing more of this very rewarding work. Looking towards the future, Kent is not too concerned about the effects of the pandemic on the college experience. “We were all in the same boat and I think companies will look to how we dealt with the problems that were presented to us and how we adapted accordingly”.

Aoife Quinn hails from a dry stock farm in Castleconnor Co. Sligo, where online learning and the freedom of being at home has only allowed her to devote more time to the expansion of her own Lleyn flock. “Growing up surrounded by animals and working on the home farm from a young age has not only given me the initiative and drive to work hard, but has allowed me to flourish in the UCD animal science course”. The challenges presented by the ongoing pandemic have not put a dampener on Quinn’s drive and focus. She sees the animal science degree programme as hands- on, and as an opportunity “to get away from the laptop
and to forget about Covid for a little while”. Placement during Covid hasn’t allowed Quinn to follow her dream of going to New Zealand for a month, but she looks forward to the future and the possibilities of a longer stint abroad perhaps. Having previously gone to Iceland and experienced a unique robotic dairying system, she was more than happy to work closer to home.

Currently working with a 300 head Holstein herd in Enniscrone, Quinn will move onto the Kennedys of Aclare, whose system is based on stabiliser cattle. This innovative farm is not only carbon neutral but also a part of the Devenish lighthouse farming programme. Quinn is excited to see and learn from this experience but also see what she can bring back to her own farm. Animal science students must do the four main animal enterprises of dairy, beef, pigs and sheep. Quinn plans to continue to Bogues’ of Cavan to a large sow unit and having little experience with pigs she is still excited for the opportunity.
“Anyone can go out on placement but if you want to do it properly, you must learn and see as much as you can. You have to pick your placements wisely” says Quinn, who is most looking forward to her 6-week internship with Teagasc Athenry’s Research farm. Quinn looks to the future with great optimism for a return to campus in September and into the future to travel, work and continue her studies, but for now, is happy to keep “taking everything as it comes”.
Undoubtedly, Dairy Business students have experienced the greatest impact on their PWE from the pandemic. Cavan man Donal O’Gorman explained the difficulties many like him find themselves in. “Being a dairy business student one of the most attractive aspects of the course was the option to do PWE abroad. The vast majority of the class were planning on going to New Zealand for six months where the adventure of getting abroad with a group of friends would’ve been something else and it was definitely very disappointing not having the opportunity to go”. O’Gorman luckily found a placement with Woodtown Jerseys in Meath, a split calving system milking 450 pedigree Jerseys. With that said, however, O’Gorman explained the difficulties of finding PWE here at home. “The timing of our placement is planned so that we get to New Zealand for the calving and breeding season. As the seasons are switched in Ireland it meant that for most dairy herds, the calving and breeding seasons were over so workloads had slackened off ”. Looking towards the future, O’Gorman hopes for his long-awaited trip to New Zealand to make up for what he missed, but for now, is looking forward to getting back to Dublin in September along with the rest of his class; “it is hard to see it being the way it was before, but all we can do is make the most of it”.

Sean McGreal from Kiltimagh Co. Mayo is a driven Animal & Crop Production (ACP) student whose impressive line-up for PWE leaves no rock unturned within the agricultural sector.  Doing a PLC before starting in UCD “concreted [his] belief in doing the agricultural science course and pursuing a career within the agri-food industry”. Beginning placement in January, McGreal first went to the O’Connor’s family farm in Dungarvan Co. Waterford, where they run a fully indoor TMR system of 550 Holstein Friesian herd milking in a 60 bail Milfos rotary. After 6 weeks of familiarizing himself with dairying, McGreal moved onto sheep where he is currently working for a lowland sheep farmer in Roscommon who has 150 ewes lambing indoors. Having only previous experience with beef and tillage, Mc Greal has found new interests within the ag sector, especially in relation to sheep and dairy. His experience and expertise he has gained from these farmers “has certainly expanded my horizons and exceeded my expectations”.
In having to experience all areas of practical agriculture, McGreal is planning on going closer to home for pigs to John Sheridan. A fully integrated piggery sees 5000 pigs in total with 500 breeding sows. From here, McGreal plans to go to Martin Joyce’s Leinster Livestock in Granard, Co. Longford. Joyce runs many different enterprises, mainly sourcing high- quality cattle for beef finishers and top quality suckler herds all the while holding an esteemed health status on the farm. This calf to store unit is the starting point for quality beef sold in his own shops in Dublin.

McGreal is among the lucky few whose travels abroad for a portion of placement this summer took place - in his case to Costello’s in Brandenburg Germany. Brothers Paul and Stephan are well known for running their 900 head grass-based dairy herd and a piggery unit, there is a lot to be taken from the opportunity to experience nearly an Irish system of agriculture abroad. When McGreal returns home, it’s onto Lisbeg in Eyrecourt, Co. Galway who finish 1,500 bullocks yearly along with 1,500 mule ewes with a tillage operation. Naturally, this line-up took a lot of thought and planning especially given the ever-changing Covid restrictions, but McGreal says that “sorting it wasn’t a problem. Farmers couldn’t have been more approachable, from their point of view they were just delighted to get the help and I was delighted to give it”. He believes that the planning could not have been done without the help of his PWE co-ordinators. “Surrounded by a positive network of lecturers and friends, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s been the most positive experience being in UCD and studying Ag Science here”, McGreal adds as he looks to the future with optimism at the safe return to campus life in September.