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Peter Hill

QMS bursary winners experience Congress

Published on 25th September 2014

Two farming women in Scotland wanting to write about agriculture participated in a Guild training course and attended IFAJ Congress 2014 thanks to a new bursary from QMS - Quality Meat Scotland - developed with the British Guild.

Jo Learmonth from Ellon, Aberdeenshire and Fiona Turnbull from Kinross submitted such good applications for the bursary that the selection panel could not split them - so they both won the opportunity.

Jo Learmonth and Fiona Turnbull 

QMS and the Guild invited applications from individuals with an interest in farming and food production, and a flair for writing. In-depth knowledge of agriculture or food production was not required.

“Those who work at the heart of our food and farming industry are rightly very proud of the job they do and the top class food we produce – such as Scotch Beef PGI and Scotch Lamb PGI – which has earned a global reputation for quality and taste,” says Carol McLaren, Guild member and head of communications at QMS. “This initiative was intended to encourage aspiring journalists, writers and bloggers to take a keen interest in our industry and understand the fantastic story our industry has to tell in terms of our environmental, social and economic sustainability.”

Guild chairman Jane Craigie adds: “Having completed the different elements of the award, our bursary winners have the foundation of skills and contacts to start a career in food or farming journalism. We very much welcome the foresight of QMS in developing this initiative.”

Fiona Turnbull says her interest in writing about agriculture was kindled at a very young age; she writes a farming column in the Kinross-shire Newsletter. She co-authored a report from the Congress with Jo Learmonth, which was published in The Scottish Farmer.

Carol McLaren says she was delighted with the applications: “They were of exceptionally high standard and choosing the winners was not easy. But we were very pleased to give the bursaries to Fiona and Jo and look forward to reading their articles in future!

Jane Cragie adds: “The response we had to this bursary was tremendous - it shows how appealing a career in agricultural journalism is to many. Our winners are already experienced in agriculture and I'm delighted we've given them a stepping stone to pursue a shift in their careers to communications.”

Fiona Turnbull writes:

“I was thrilled to be chosen as joint winner of the new Food & Farming Journalism Bursary, developed by Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) in partnership with the British Guild of Agricultural Journalists (BGAJ).

“What a miracle to be chosen and such a blessing to win a bursary at my age,” I commented to my family. I turn 40 this year so had feared I’d be heading for a crisis, feeling like buying a trendy sports car rather than being offered an unprecedented opportunity to broaden my horizons and embark on a new career.

Our youngest son was delighted as he took it literally and thought I had won a handwriting course. Seemingly my “to do” notes are illegible and it’s hard to tell exactly who has to empty the dishwasher. It’s true, I’m a busy sheep farmer who scribbles about housework but I also love to dabble in writing about farming.  I really enjoy contributing a bi-monthly farming column to our local newsletter but until now never felt confident enough to take it any further.

Training is crucial to the success of any new project and as part of the bursary I secured a place on the BGAJ/John Deere Training Award, which proved to be an ideal induction to the industry. As one of 12 aspiring agricultural journalists invited to the company’s headquarters at Langar, near Nottingham, I spent three days acquiring the skills to write professionally and develop an understanding of the agricultural press.

Stepping further out of my comfort zone, in August I met Guild member Ewan Pate, farming editor of The Courier, for two days of work experience. Whilst walking over two farms and making our way to Holyrood, Ewan conducted the interviews and photographed the land, livestock and people. I could only think: I must take multi-tasking more seriously if I'm to succeed here, as he skillfully made the farmers and politicians feel at ease and recorded enough information for a good story.

This wasn’t just a writing bursary though; this was a QMS/BGAJ writing bursary, which included an outstanding once in a lifetime bonus for Jo Learmonth and I. We attended the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists (IFAJ) congress held in Aberdeenshire, where we mingled with over 200 agri-journalists from 37 countries.

I have been part of a few organisations by this stage in my life, but I have never witnessed an event staged with such passion and energy. The delegates were incredibly impressed with the organisation and they understood that it was because of a huge amount of hard work by the Guild's small band of organisers.

The delegates were also the most enthusiastic and energetic group of people I have ever met. Sleep seemed entirely optional as gala dinners ended well after midnight and farm tours kicked off from 6am. There was plenty opportunity to discuss approaches and audience demands; probably the most valuable lesson I learnt again was the value of an open and friendly attitude. This will gain farmers' trust and help get the story.

My own farming efforts even caught the attention of a few delegates - one interviewed me for a Croatian radio farming programme, which goes out early on a Sunday morning.

I’d like to say a massive Thank You to the creators of this experience. You have enabled me to learn another set of skills, provided the opportunity to practice and develop my writing, helped me build a list of contacts and increase my new found confidence.

Your concept is a modern and innovative approach for our industry and it was designed and delivered very thoughtfully. I do hope it can be replicated for others to benefit.

In the meantime, please be assured that dabbling has ended and although I am still learning, I’m now Fiona Turnbull, sheep farmer and agricultural writer.”

Peter Hill

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