‘Advances in technology have done little to ensure farm safety’

“We have seen so many advances in technology in recent years, why are there not more measures out there to ensure farm safety?” That’s the question exercising  21-year-old Virginia, Co. Cavan, farmer, Sophie Bell.

“There are some great resources out there to read and look at about farm safety. However, the amount of farm accidents that have happened this year have shown we aren’t doing enough. The most important thing on the farm is our safety and one split second can do a lot of damage,” said the dry stock farmer.

“We have a lot on our plate as farmers so we can’t always have safety measures at the top of our minds so why not have more safety measures in place? A simple example of this could be putting down a non-slip surface rather than reminding yourself every time not to slip on the slippery parlour steps,” said Sophie.

Near misses

“We have had some near misses with cattle when we used to have sucklers, years ago. For example, my brother and I were quite young and wanted to see what was happening at the crush one day when a TB test was being carried out,” she said.

We were watching at the gate, thinking it was safe. However, the cattle were let out and were putting a lot of pressure on an old gate which nearly swung open and trampled us, inches away from a serious accident. We’ve now got a very good handling system plus younger more docile cattle. However, when you’re that young, you don’t think about these things.

“We have seen so many advances in terms of farm technology in recent years, getting text messages when a cow is in heat and fence alarms telling us there’s a fence down. There’s so much technology out there so why aren’t there more advances to protect us?” said Sophie.

The young farmer is going into her final year at Harper Adams University in the UK where she is studying for a BSc hons degree in agriculture with animal science. She will be doing a research project based on calf health.

“I buy in some of my own stock along with my dad. I have some belted Galloway pedigrees but, apart from that, we decided to get rid of the sucklers a few years ago.

“Growing up, I was always interested in animals. However, I never really took to farming until I was older, in secondary school. I think doing ag science as a subject in secondary school made me a lot more interested. I have one sibling. He isn’t that interesting in farming but he does help out if needs be.”

She spent her third college year working for an Irish beef company as well as working on a dairy farm and taking soil samples for Lakeland Dairies.

“Due to Covid-19, I’m farming at home and working on a dairy farm until I’m ready to go back to college in September,” said Sophie.

Important stage

“I am asked a lot why could I not just go to a local college. I put a fair amount of effort into researching what college I wanted to go to as it’s a very important stage of my life and I wanted to make sure I made the right move,” Sophie said.

“After researching and visiting colleges such as University College Dublin [UCD], Dundalk and others, I figured they were not for me in terms of what I was looking for. Between course content, price of housing, employability and everything else in between, it just did not suit me personally to study in this country. So I looked elsewhere.

“Harper Adams provided a course directly suited to the livestock end of farming, while having plenty of practical classes and a mixture of different modules that suited what I was looking for. It also worked out cheaper for me to live over there in a house and to run a car than it would be if I went to Dublin to study,” said Sophie.

“It is a rural college, with a working farm on-site and has a great social aspect to it. There are also plenty of other Irish students over there too so it suited me down to the ground. I am home every few weeks so there’s not much room or time for getting homesick. They send us out on a year of placement, so I’ve plenty of experience working in the real world before I even graduate.

“It brought me on so much personally being out on my own and in terms of knowledge and experience too. I went over there on my own without a car or a job and I still worked everything out no bother. I’d definitely recommend just heading to an open day just to see it,” said Sophie.

Fees at Harper Adams University vary depending on the level of study and whether students are classed as home – UK and Ireland – or overseas, a spokesperson said.

“For undergraduate degrees, the fee is £9,250 for UK and Irish students and the majority of students take out loans to cover this. Loan repayment terms vary depending on loan body which varies from nation to nation.”

Instagram

Like many other farmers, Sophie promotes her day-to-day life in agriculture on Instagram.

“I get to showcase my life as a farmer through pictures and videos. This has built up into quite a large following over the past few years.

“I’ve also found a safe community of positive and supportive young people on this app, with like-minded ambitions and lifestyles. Its definitely given me a lot more confidence and motives and looking back on everything I’ve had so many wonderful opportunities out of it.

It’s good to know there’s a great network of people at the touch of a button in your pocket. Having this platform can reduce the impacts of rural isolation for a lot of people.

Sophie is often asked about her experience as a woman in farming.

“My opinion has definitely changed over the past few years about this question. I think everyone has their own opinion around this topic; however, nobody would ever ask a man what have his experiences been like as a man in agriculture so why should we ask a woman this question?

“This is backed up by the fact we have proven ourselves over the years with the amount of interviews and articles and social media pages showcasing what we do and what we are capable of.

We have nothing left to prove. The idea of questioning our ability based on our gender needs to stop.

Firmly focused on graduating, Sophie said that she has her CV at the ready.

“I’m quite open minded about future careers; I have no set plan as of yet, I want to aim for a decent degree and take it from there after that. I’ve already had some great job offers but I will have to wait and see what comes up this time next year. I’ll definitely want to come home.”

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