Student scoops prestigious agricultural bursary

An RAU student whose passion for farming started when he took on his grandmother’s small herd of home bred pigs has been awarded this year’s prestigious John Innes Foundation Bursary which supports young people starting their farm management and crop production careers.

Will Oliver, 19, who is in his first year of the FdSc Agriculture and Farm Management course at the Royal Agricultural University (RAU), will now have all his course fees paid by the Foundation.

The Bursary is awarded every year to a student from a non-farming background who wants to pursue a career in UK agriculture and has a financially disadvantaged family situation. It was first awarded in 2018.

Will, who grew up in the village of Upton, near Nuneaton in Warwickshire, said: “I was brought up on a smallholding, just a few acres, but my Grandmother had a small herd of pigs which she had bred herself. My parents aren’t farmers but, after my Grandmother died, my mum kept a sow to breed from and then I took them on myself when I was in my early teens.

“Initially I just looked after the herd but then, when I was about 13 or 14, I started breeding from the pigs and selling the piglets on. I just really enjoyed it and I knew then, 100%, that I wanted to study agriculture and go into farming and, if I could, I wanted to come to the RAU.”

Once Will completes his initial two-year foundation course, he plans to do a third year top up to make his qualification into a BSc in Agricultural Management.

Will added: “Getting here hasn’t been the easiest journey but I’m really happy to have made it and I’m really enjoying my course.

“I left school at the start of year 11 and went to Brooksby College to study rugby and agriculture. I did my GCSEs there and initially failed everything, apart from maths, but I got a distinction in the agriculture course! That really confirmed to me that I was right to want to study agriculture!”

Professor Nicola Cannon, Associate Professor of Agriculture at the RAU, said: “We are delighted to have an RAU student as the recipient of the John Innes Foundation bursary as awards such as this helps to demonstrate how much the agricultural sector welcome new entrants and talent into the industry.”

Keith Norman, trustee and mentor at the John Innes Foundation, said: “Will’s enthusiasm for a farming career came across loud and clear through the final interview and we were in no doubt he was a really good choice for the Bursary. We are looking forward to keeping track of Will’s progress throughout his studies and hopefully we will be able to facilitate his career too.”

The Bursary includes some time spent doing work experience with farm management company Velcourt and, when he graduates from the RAU, Will hopes to get a job in farm management.

He added: “I am really happy to have been awarded this Bursary. It will cover all the fees for the whole of the course and means that all that stress, having a student debt hanging over my head for years to come, is taken away. It’s a massive help!”