My career in food and drink

Gill Lawrie, Farmer

Gill LawrieWhat does your company do?

We are farmers. Our job is to produce food, either for human or animal consumption. Our farm grows winter wheat, winter and spring barley, oilseed rape, potatoes, grass. and wWe have 120 suckler cows (these are cows which produce calves which will eventually be used for beef either straight from this farm or sold on to another farmer to fatten).

Our wheat could be used to make biscuits, Weetabix, alcohol, or fed to poultry or pigs. The winter barley could be used for making malt or for feeding livestock and the spring barley is used for malt (for whisky, barley malt flavouring, malt extract). The Oilseed Rape is used for making cooking oil or margarine (or even diesel) and the by-product is used for feeding livestock. Potatoes grown on our land are mainly for human consumption (crisps, chips, baked potatoes, salad potatoes, mashed, boiled, etc).

How did you get started in this job?

My family were farmers and all of my life I have worked within the farming industry and have married a farmer! Two of my three children are involved within our business.

My training was through college where I trained to be a Farm Secretary. This is a specialist secretary/book-keeper with specific knowledge of the farming industry, its language, traditions and skills. I have worked in a variety of situations, including on a farm college in Zambia (VSO); the Young Farmers (a voluntary/third sector organisation) organising national competitions, conferences and events; a livestock auctioneer; as well as helping farmers keep their accounts and records.

What skills do you use in your job?

I use book-keeping/typing skills along with computer work, but my main skills have been developed over many years of working in the farming industry. I think I have a fairly good general knowledge of farming and spend some of my time imparting that knowledge to others (especially school children).

What are the entry qualifications?

That depends on what job you are doing within farming. Experiences and knowledge picked up by farming families is highly valued, but a good basic education including the STEM subjects is also very important (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths). It is possible to enter the farming ladder simply by having experience of the work, but most people nowadays go to college/university and study agriculture in many different forms at Certificate, Diploma or Degree level.

What do you particularly like about your job?

I enjoy being part of a vibrant and progressive industry and find that every day is different! I may be helping with livestock one minute and driving staff to different areas the next. However, my main role is keeping the accounts and farm records up to date on the computer.

What car do you drive?

I drive a Toyota RAV4, so does my husband. If you live in the country, you need a car! Our vehicles work for the farm, which is why we both have cars. We also have farm vans which our staff use because we have three farms and our staff need to be able to travel around them all.

What is the salary – or salary range?

This depends very much on age and experience. There is an Agricultural Wages Board in Scotland which sets the minimum wage rates for farm staff, however, most skilled workers will be paid well above that minimum. For general farm workers the pay scale is anything from £22k upwards; farm managers would be £30k upwards. Farm Secretaries could be around £25k.

What did you study at school and how relevant were the subjects?

I was at secondary school in the 1960s so subjects have drastically changed since then. However, I used to enjoy maths and geography and they were both relevant, but I struggled with science subjects (I blamed the teachers!). I also enjoyed accounts and the equivalent in those days of modern studies. Their relevance – in those days, the learning was not so geared towards following a career and much of the stuff we learned, seemed irrelevant at the time.

What advice would you give to school pupils thinking about pursuing a career like yours - or any career in the food and drink industry?

Be enthusiastic, adaptable, interested in the topic you want to study/work in. Think of how other people might perceive you, your personality and your abilities. Work hard, but remember to play as well – that is a form of learning too (life experience). If you make a mistake, learn from it!

What do you particularly like about the food and drink sector?

I am fascinated by anything to do with food – it's growing, cooking, serving, the health benefits of eating good, local food, but especially eating! As human animals we cannot survive without food and I am in the privileged position of being able to be involved with the production of the good quality raw materials growing in our fields and sheds. I love talking about food and am happy to go into schools and discuss any aspect of the growing and eating of food with people.

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Last reviewed: 21 Feb 2020