Writtle News

Agriculture students lead WUC to virtual victory

June 2017

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Four agricultural degree students at Writtle University College have won a virtual crop growing challenge.

The team was up against seven other universities and colleges from across England in the Cereals Challenge.

Oliver Martin, Harry Coppin, George Padfield and Henry Hawkins were given the prestigious agricultural prize at Cereals - the leading technical event for the arable farming industry - on Wednesday 14 June as part of the Guild of Agricultural Journalists Cereals Awards ceremony.

For the first time in the competition's eight-year history, teams did not have a real plot to manage but competed to grow the best virtual plot of spring barley.

The WUC team, who won individual cash prizes and £500 for the University College, chose to grow a malting barley on light sands in Suffolk, benefitting from being close to maltsters and none of the weed black grass due to the region's lighter soils. They opted for the variety Octavia, which is approved for brewing and malt distilling.

Harry Coppin, who is going into a job selling and demonstrating precision farming tools with Garford Farm Machinery, described the Cereals Challenge as “an amazing experience”.

“The University College has provided support and brilliant marketing of the Cereals Challenge and it has paid off,” he added. “It was good to incorporate our learning and agronomy skills into a potential real-life situation”

Fellow teammate and family farmer, George Padfield said: “I feel very privileged to have been able to take part in such a high-profile competition, let alone win.

“The team were all fantastic along with the lecturers who need to take lots of credit for preparing us so well throughout our time at Writtle. Their hands-on approach and being able to easily access one-to-one advice sets the course apart from others.”

The annual competition - organised by crop production specialists, Hutchinsons, and farm business management company, Velcourt - aims to encourage a new generation of agronomists and farmers into the industry.

Each team was asked to present fertiliser and herbicide management plans, a Plant Growth Regulator and pest management plan as well as a disease management plan and, most importantly, was asked to evaluate their appropriateness and timeliness for each recommendation, input cost management, estimated crop yield and quality.

WUC Senior Lecturer in Agriculture Henry Matthews said: “The Writtle team beat all other agricultural universities to win the Cereals Challenge, which is a very prestigious competition. Under the guidance of captain Oliver Martin, now assistant farm manager on the Sandringham Estate, the team were left to develop their plans with no input from staff and came up with the crop and recommendations, which would have been the most profitable if grown in the view of the judges

“The Challenge is a great opportunity for students to demonstrate their skills and knowledge in an applied way, as they will have to in the roles they are likely to take up in the industry. Congratulations to the team.”


Writtle University College offers a range of agricultural qualifications, ranging from short course programmes and apprenticeships, to college and university courses.

For more information visit www.writtle.ac.uk/courses