Course: BSc Agriculture
Campus: SRUC Aberdeen
SRUC Aberdeen alumna Melissa Irvine starred in BBC’s first “This Farming Life” series, aired in 2016. The programme followed five farming families over the course of a year, with spectacular footage providing an insightful look at modern farming in Scotland. The series audience peaked at 2.8 million viewers on one episode.
Melissa and husband Martin live on a family-run 240 acre farm in Drummuir, Keith. We caught up with Melissa to hear about filming, her time at SRUC Aberdeen, and her advice for women looking to get into Agriculture.
Tell us about your experience being on BBC 2’s This Farming Life.
We were a bit nervous at the start but after the first few recordings we really relaxed into it and pretended that the camera wasn’t there. The BBC crew were fantastic, they didn’t get in the way at all, we were able to get jobs done on the farm, and on the wedding day they were very much in the background. We became really good friends with the sound and camera people – each time they came up there were three teams of two that switched around.
It was quite nice for them to be there at our wedding as they had become such good friends. After a bit of filming in the morning and during the day, they put the cameras down and had a good night with us as well. It’s also quite nice for us to have it all on film now!
It was great seeing your dad in the show and hearing about your family’s farming background. Was farming always going to be your future as you were growing up?
My dad switched to a mixed livestock farm after having a dairy farm, so I was born and bred on a farm! Either side of my family are both farming and I knew that farming was what I wanted to do. Every job I’ve had has been related to farming, and I studied Agriculture at SAC. My mum and dad were both really supportive – “it doesn’t make you a lot of money, but if you’re happy doing it, go for it”.
Tell us about your role with ScotEID
ScotEID works closely with the Scottish livestock sector and Scottish Government to develop and provide farmers with traceability products and services, helping them with legislative requirements and difficulties. I have worked for them as an information assistant since November 2015.
Farming and agriculture is getting more high tech. Have you seen a big difference within the sector since you were growing up?
The technology seems to have a step change every time – as you’d have seen on the programme with the probes that we used for the cows to be able to tell when they’re calving – that’s obviously new technology to us, and I can only see it growing. The amount of people using GPS and things like that is always increasing. At ScotEID there are the traceability tags for sheep, which are being introduced to cattle – I think this is another area for growth.
Some people think technology makes your life easier, but some folk think it makes for a lazier way of farming. Farming is a hard job, you put in so many hours, and a lot of hard work. At the end of the day, I think if it’s something that will make your life easier, then use it.
Has what you learned at SRUC prepared you for life on the farm?
I would have to say yes – I had a really good three years at college and I met so many lifelong friends and learned a lot from their experiences in agriculture too. When you’re looking for employment, a lot of people look for that piece of paper. There were some really good lecturers when I was at Craibstone – Jim Marr was one of them, I think he’s retired now, who were just fantastic. I really did enjoy my time at Craibstone.
Do you still keep in touch with your Ag classmates?
Yes, I met a few of my really best friends at SAC. One of them was one of my Maid of Honour at the wedding. It’s always good to meet up with classmates at the Royal Highland Show and those sorts of events. I really did enjoy going to college, and the social life was fantastic as well.
SRUC is trying to redress the balance and encourage more women into farming and rural sector industries. What advice can you give to women in a predominantly male environment?
The BBC asked me “Mel are you a feminist?” and I said, “No... well, I haven’t really thought about it...” and now when I sit down and really think about it I would hate for someone to say “you can’t do that because you’re female” – because that is a load of rubbish.
I would be encouraging anyone – young or old or female, if that’s what you want to do, to go for it, and don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do it. Yes, maybe some males are physically stronger, but there’s nothing a woman can’t do, or have a good go of doing.
Agriculture is still male dominated. For this to change it’s about telling the women out there who want to do it, that they shouldn’t just sit back and let men take over. My advice to them would be just ‘go for it’ and to take any training that they can get.
It would be a shame for women to think they can’t do it because of gender. They will probably surprise themselves!