On 4 November 2020, Northern Ireland Minister for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Mr Edwin Poots, MLA, spoke at the launch of the College of Agriculture Food and Rural Enterprise’s (CAFRE) new honours degree in Sustainable Agriculture with Agri-Business and Land Management.

He said that there is a “need for increased productivity and resilience in the agri-food industry, this degree is very timely and will complement the existing higher education courses in agriculture.

“CAFRE has an excellent reputation for producing work ready graduates and students completing this new degree will be greatly sought after.”

The degree, which is validated by Ulster University, will be delivered at CAFRE’s Greenmount Campus in Co Antrim.

It comprises of various modules around the different aspects of sustainable agriculture and has been introduced to focus on the particular areas of agri environment and agri-business.

It aims to broaden the choice for young people and to complement the existing higher education provision in agriculture in Northern Ireland.

CAFRE director Martin McKendry, also speaking at the launch of the degree, described it as “a significant milestone for CAFRE and in particular for Greenmount campus”.

“The new degree will be of interest to those young people interested in a broad range of careers in agriculture, agri environment and agribusiness sectors,” McKendry continued.

“The honours degree in Sustainable Agriculture will also offer seamless progression for those students completing foundation-degree qualifications.”

Increase in choice

Dr Mark Carson, course director for higher education courses in agriculture at CAFRE said: “This degree adds to the existing CAFRE provision and increases the choice available for young people. It is offered both on a full-time and part-time basis and creates an opportunity for career and education progression.”

Minister Edwin Poots and CAFRE director Martin McKendry at the launch of the new CAFRE Honours Degree in Sustainable Agriculture.

According to Professor Carol Curran, executive dean of the faculty of life and health sciences at Ulster University: “The agriculture industry will play a key role in Northern Ireland’s economic recovery and this new degree will ensure that an industry ready pipeline of graduates will be equipped with the knowledge and skills to navigate the changing technology advancements, infrastructure considerations, process improvements and sustainability to shape the landscape of local agribusinesses.”

Interest in the course

There has been great interest and encouraging demand for this course to date, with Dr Mark Carson commenting that the degree is practically applied, relevant to the needs of the industry and that interest is expected to increase as the significance and importance of sustainable agriculture continues to grow.

Potential career pathways

The course will be similar to other agi courses in terms of career pathways for graduates. Some will go directly in to managing their own home farm enterprises, while others will enter full-time employment in a variety of industry roles or progress to research and undertake a master’s or PhD qualification. Careers exist along the entire supply chain of the agri-food industry supporting farmers and growers.

Tuition fees

Fees for NI students are £1,785 per annum (currently under review) with the course commencing in September 2021. Full details of the course are available on the CAFRE website.

Course overview

The course is completed over four years, full-time, and includes an optional work placement year where students can gain valuable industry experience. It can also be studied part-time over a six- to seven-year period – again depending on work placement.

Applicants must have at least 104 UCAS tariff points at A2 level, including a science subject, preferably biology or chemistry. More information regarding acceptable subjects are also available on the CAFRE website (cafre.co.uk). The 104 UCAS tariff points is equivalent to approximately two H2 grades and two H3 grades at Leaving Cert.

Applicants should also have three months relevant practical experience.

Academic modules

Students will be learn a range of modules throughout the degree. Sustainable crop production systems, future challenges for agri food, sustainable supply chains, sustainable ruminant pigs and poultry and agri-food policy and human resource management to name a few. Again, the full list of modules per year are listed on the CAFRE website.

The ultimate aim of this degree is to provide quality further education on sustainable agriculture as a whole as the significance and importance of new sustainable farming practices are vital in this ever-changing, dynamic sector. It will provide a variety of new opportunities for those students interested in sustainable agriculture, opening them up to a broad range of careers within the agriculture, agri environment and agri-business sectors.

Life at CAFRE: what to expect

Studying at CAFRE Greenmount Campus, Kellie Rouse from Co Tyrone has just completed a BSc Honours degree in Agricultural Technology with Professional Studies with CAFRE and Queens University Belfast. Kellie, who stayed in Greenmount campus accommodation during first and second year of university shares her experiences about life on campus.

Accommodation: “Accommodation is affordable, of a great standard, a safe environment and a fantastic way to socialise and meet new friends from across Ireland. It is really convenient to campus with a five-minute walk to lectures. A library with full access to computers is also available for studying and completing assignments. Belfast city is only a 20-minute drive with good transport facilities for socialising. Antrim town is also very close by which is convenient in terms of amenities. The campus is also very well located, being only 10 mins away from Belfast International Airport.”

Activities on campus: “The campus runs various activities such as five-a-side soccer, and there are communal areas within the campus where students can freely meet up and socialise with one another.”

Learning environment: “Lectures are well-structured with a lot of class interaction, which helps to keep students interested and focused. CAFRE planned numerous day trips where we went on various farm enterprises and industry visits.”

Industry speakers: “Regular events where industry stakeholders such the Ulster Farmers’ Union, Northern Ireland Grassland Association and other agriculture companies took place on campus which was a fantastic way of meeting future employers and gain valuable contacts.

“Living at Greenmount is a great experience, staff are very friendly and helpful to all students and there is always a good atmosphere around campus.”