I am a third year Food and Agribusiness Management student studying in University College Dublin (UCD).

When I applied to the CAO back in 2019, I chose agricultural science for the vast career opportunities and because of my love for farming at home in Co Cavan.

That said, one particular aspect which really stood out to me was the opportunities for travel provided while studying agricultural science in UCD.

Last semester I was given the opportunity by the UCD school of Agriculture and Food Science to participate in a study-abroad programme in Purdue University, located in the state of Indiana in mid-west America.

Tillage and beef farm located in Seneca, Kansas.

After a rocky start of trying to obtain a visa (due to COVID-19 restrictions), I was finally given permission to travel stateside on the 17 August 2021. On this day, I said my farewells to family and friends and began my four-month journey through the US.

Indoor automatic dairy system milking 2,500 cows daily.

Corn and beans

Upon my arrival, I instantly recognised a difference in lifestyle and college life in the US. The first few weeks were difficult; settling into the strange and unusual environment of corn and bean fields, but in just a matter of weeks it felt somewhat like home.

Dairy farmer milking his cows in a parallel parlour in Kansas.

During this semester in Purdue, I specialised in studying agricultural economics. I had a range of modules – from soil science, principles of animal products, spreadsheet use in agribusiness and the principles of marketing. One module I particularly enjoyed was ‘professional selling based on agricultural products’.

Travelling saleswoman

For this module, I travelled around with professional salespeople from US-based co-ops like Agri Gold and Cargill, meeting farmers throughout Indiana. These large co-ops taught us about the practice of selling and what factors were important to farmers when buying seed and supplies for the upcoming year.

Holstein maiden heifers in an outdoor housing system in Indiana.

I also enjoyed our ‘animal products’ module, for which there is an on-campus processing plant facility. This meant each week we got the opportunity to see different raw foods being made into a finished product. From the curding of wool, to the butchery of sheep, pigs and cattle, I obtained a valuable insight into the food industry.

Educational system

The college educational system in the US is different to what we do in Ireland. In the US there is emphasis on continuous assessment, which can be difficult to get used to at the start, but works out better with regards to keeping up with new module material.

Irish students visit Nashville, Tennessee, for their October break.

American students tend to be more engaging with lectures, compared to us Irish students. I would encourage any students studying aboard to make sure you get the best out of their modules by also engaging with lectures.

The Purdue College lifestyle was really one of a kind. There were no AgSoc events like county colours or milk races like in UCD, but rather societies ranging from American football to meat judging competitions.

One which really grabbed my attention was the on-campus GAA team. It’s a great way for us Irish to keep up our GAA skills and take part in tournaments around the US.

Purdue GAA hurling and football team go to a tournament in Wisconsin state.

Work hard and play hard

On my college breaks – which included October break and Thanksgiving – I made sure to fit in plenty of sightseeing. From the skyscrapers in Chicago and New York to wearing our cowboy boots in Nashville, you could say I became fully engrossed in American culture!

Irish students go to New York city on college break.

One of my most memorable experiences was visiting cousins in a rural town called Seneca, which is located in the state of Kansas. There are no hills, like we have in Cavan, but rather thousands of acres of flat prairie land, reaching further than the horizon.

American football game in the Ross-Ade stadium in Purdue University.

American farming

Farmers in this area told me they have large enterprises on their farms, including hogs, dairy, beef and tillage. With large beef herds of 2,000 stock and John Deeres of 500hp, it was a bit different from our small family farms in Ireland.

I enjoyed the opportunity to see these farms in action – especially the dairy farm consisting of 2,500 Holstein Friesian cows. This farmer told me that he had recently introduced robotic milking to his farm replacing his parallel parlours. He mentioned that beef and tillage is the main enterprise in America, with many farmers opting out of dairy as it’s difficult to compete with the large-scale production in the US.

Angus beef is the most popular breed with American farmers, though they also have their own native Long Horn breed on farms.

Home for Christmas

On returning home to Ireland for Christmas, I can say it was an amazing experience to not only travel but to also learn more about the innovation of agriculture in the US. This experience will be very beneficial to my upcoming career in the agricultural industry. I would recommend anyone to consider a study abroad programme in their course – it’s a great way to broaden their knowledge within their sector and see the world.

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