Read interviews with students and graduates from the MSc programme in Agriculture:
Peter is based in a modern open and bright office building in an industrial district on the western outskirts of Horsens in East Jutland. The building houses LMO, an agricultural consultancy company. Peter works as a crop production consultant for LMO.
Why did you choose Agriculture?
Agriculture was attractive to me because it is about biology, but with a commercial angle. I also found the plant science element really interesting.
I’ve always been interested in agriculture and in plants and nature. I did some interesting projects in upper secondary school where we looked at photosynthesis and the physiology and anatomy of plants. I wasn’t keen on studying for six years and then getting a job behind a desk. Agriculture made it possible to get a job where you get outside, with a pair of wellies in the boot of the car, which also appealed to me.
What do you learn on the agriculture programme?
I have a bachelor’s degree in Natural Resources with a specialisation in plant science. We typically had subjects like basic chemistry and soil science. On the master’s programme you look more at the broader perspectives, and try to combine the courses you did on your bachelor’s programme. You also do a number of more specialised subjects, in fields like chemistry, biochemistry, genetics or genetic engineering – or holistic subjects looking at ecosystems, landscape systems and the relationship between nature and business.
What did you do your master’s thesis on?
I went to Thailand and interviewed rice farmers about their fertiliser budgets, to see if they were sustainable. I visited both conventional and organic farms, and looked at their strategies for surviving and making money. This was inspired by a course on ecology. As a result of the trip, I’m currently an active member of Organic Denmark’s Global Organic Committee, which works with organic farming in the developing countries. They have similar development projects in countries like Uganda, for Danida.
You now work at LMO in Horsens. What does LMO stand for?
LMO is no longer an acronym. Originally it stood for ‘Landbrug Midt Øst’ (Agriculture in Mid-East Jutland). Today, we’re simply LMO Consultants. It’s an independent company owned by the agricultural associations. We pay dividends back to our owners, but we are owned by many of our customers, so our goal is not to make a lot of money but to provide the best consultancy.
What does the work involve?
It’s incredibly varied. It changes with the seasons. During the summer I do pre-harvest visits, walking through the fields with the farmer. I look for any unchecked weeds, and at the crop rotation, and whether he should use cover crops such as oilseed radish or white mustard to bind nutrients in the soil. The Danish Agricultural Agency requires farmers to do everything they can to reduce nitrogen leaching into watercourses and lakes.
In autumn we look at the sowing. In the winter we look at the fertiliser accounts and field planning, which means planning which fertilisers the farmer should use and where he should spread the liquid manure. There’s a lot of paperwork in the winter.
From mid-March to July we spend a lot of time in the fields looking at weeds and fungi. Why are the crops not growing optimally? Do they need fertiliser? So we go out and offer advice to farmers. It’s very varied. We work with very different things, depending on the season. For example, lice in winter wheat is only a problem for a very short time in the course of the year.
How many people work at LMO?
We have offices in Horsens, Søften near Aarhus, Viborg and on the island of Samsø. There are 450 employees in total, of whom approx. 120 are based in Horsens. Our specialty in the crop production department is to provide all the advice farmers need on things like fertiliser accounts, field planning, EU applications and field consultancy, as well as courses.
We also have experience-exchange groups for farmers, and we distribute newsletters with market information and news on a range of topics. We cover everything related to crop production. Our second-largest department is the one that offers tax and accounting advice. But there is close contact between all departments – we can cater to the customer’s full range of needs.
There are plenty of opportunities to specialise – e.g. in machinery, grass seed or organic farming. My job profile is still evolving. My customers are primarily pig farmers and part-time farmers, who mostly grow grain and canola.
Did you feel well equipped to enter the corporate sector?
I gained a basic understanding of the profession at university. You don’t learn specific rules and laws etc., but you learn to understand how things are connected and see things in context.
When you get out into the real world, there are many different practical things to get to grips with, depending on the season – so you have to experience it a few times. But my colleagues understand that it takes some time to learn everything. For the first six months I had a close colleague, a mentor, whom I accompanied in the field and observed. The company had done a very good onboarding plan.
As a student you think: can I handle it? I did a six-month internship at SEGES, and it gave me a lot of professional confidence. I realised that I was able to apply what I had learned. It’s a good idea to do an internship in a commercial company, and to do a bachelor project. LMO often has student assistants working in our experimental department.
Is it difficult to get a job?
Fortunately it was not difficult for me to get a job, and my fellow students also found jobs relatively fast. It depends on whether you are willing to relocate. If you want to work in agribusiness, e.g. dry goods, plant breeding, chemical companies or agricultural consultancy, the job prospects are fairly good. You can also teach at agricultural colleges or work in municipal environmental departments, or in the Danish Agricultural Agency as a management consultant.
You will be competing with biologists for the jobs in the municipalities and the Danish Agricultural Agency. But in the agricultural consultancy sector, you have a competitive advantage as an agronomist.
Would you recommend the programme to others?
Definitely. It’s a really great place to study, the teachers are good, and the programme is targeted at the agribusiness, so it’s not too abstract. This appeals to me. And as an agronomist you can get a job where you’re not just sitting in an office. You have customer contact and meet a lot of people.
Since this interview, Peter has went on to work with IT-solutions for farmers at SEGES Innovation.
"One of my fellow students put it so well when he said that Agriculture is the perfect study programme if you like plants, but are not that keen on tractors," says Maja Dibbern Kaaber, MSc student at Agriculture.
Why did you choose this particular programme?
I originally wanted to study literature or medicine. But I have always loved plants, and I thought about what I love most – and that is actually things which grow. Especially flowers.
For my MSc I have chosen the specialisation in Plant Science and am moving more and more in the direction of molecular plant science: physiology, genetics and chemistry. These are subjects which you can use to study individual plants at the molecular level.
You have decided to spend the last year on a PhD. …
Yes, I am now starting a four-year PhD programme, commonly known as a "4+4". This means that you transfer the last year of your MSc programme to the PhD so that you can spend four years doing research rather than the normal three.
I am going to be doing research into flower induction, trying to identify the genes involved in the flowering of roses. I will probably be working with both grafting and RNA sequencing.
It's simply perfect. I love flowers, and I can now spend four years studying the flowering of roses!
Until recently, I have been spending most of my time at Frederiksberg Campus, which is a lovely place. However, I have just moved to the experimental farms in Taastrup outside Copenhagen, where I have just been given an office. My supervisor, and many of the people I know from my studies work out here. So it is not like starting a new job. It is lovely and very pleasant, and everybody is very friendly.
How do you like the study programme?
I really like it. As a student, you are free to combine subjects in which you are particularly interested, for example within molecular science, botany, breeding or chemistry.
When we started our studies, our professor took us round to various plant nurseries in a minibus. Our teachers are generally around a lot and very involved; they will, for example, help you find the materials you need.
Also, a lot of what we do has very direct applications. For example, major assignments such as our bachelor projects can be of interest to the agricultural and horticultural sector.
It is a programme which demands a lot of you as a student. The programme is divided into blocks (i.e. 8 to 9-week modules followed by an exam, ed.), which I think has been hard at times. I have often been studying more than full-time. We have had up to eight exams a year, and our teachers are extremely ambitious.
We often have lectures and classes from 8 in the morning until 5 in the afternoon several days a week, plus set reading and assignments. We study a lot of different subjects, for example botany, genetics, plant diseases and post-harvest (how to handle crops etc. after harvesting, ed.).
What are the chances of studying abroad?
As a PhD student, you are obliged to work in a different research environment for at least three months, and this often means going abroad. The question is whether you will be able to take your family.
What does the programme lead to?
Often to research positions at universities or in companies working with the breeding of agricultural crops or ornamental plants.
It can also lead to jobs in big nurseries involving the optimisation of growing conditions. Or you can find employment within wine production or as a consultant to growers of fruits and berries.
What would you like to work with when you finish?
I would like to do research, either at a university or with a private company.
Where will you be in ten years' time?
I hope I am manager of some huge gardens and responsible for flowers and research projects into the plant sciences. Either that, or breeding roses.
Maja now works as an academic officer at Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences at University of Copenhagen.
Ingvild Lauvland Høie from Norway studies Agriculture, specialising in Production and Environment. People often ask her how it is possible to study agriculture in a vibrant city like Copenhagen. Well, in addition to courses on Frederiksberg Campus, the students actually get to dig their fingers in the soil outside the city.
“Last summer we did fieldwork on a farm for two weeks and that gave me the best perspective I can get to agriculture. Otherwise, it is a bit ironic to study agriculture in a big city like Copenhagen,” Ingvild says.
Her specialisation area, Production and Environment, focuses on sustainable agricultural production and minimizing the effects of agriculture on the surrounding environment, especially on water and soil.
“There is a clear link between agronomy and environmental sciences. I think it is important to recognize that you can’t look at agriculture as only plants or animals but from a broader perspective,” she says
Ingvild started in the MSc Programme in Agriculture after completing her Bachelor’s studies in Environmental Sciences at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences. “At that point, I wanted a more agricultural perspective on my studies, and the University of Copenhagen was a clear candidate,” she says.
The Production and Environment specialisation includes theoretical and practical courses on agricultural production linked to environmental sciences and biology. With only a few compulsory courses, the programme gives the students plenty of flexibility to choose their courses. “That might also be a bit of a challenge, as you have to decide which direction you really want to go, and most of the courses are very interesting!” Ingvild says.
As a part of her studies, she did an internship at a pilot-scale catchment area in Northern Jutland in Denmark. “There I looked at some of the results from a national drainage water monitoring programme, and interviewed local farmers asking them about agricultural practices, fertilization and drainage systems,” Ingvild explains.
The material she gathered during the internship is also the foundation of her Master’s thesis on nitrogen losses from drained agricultural areas that she is currently working on. “The fact that I have been out there, doing all those things gives me the personal relationship to the work and brings in the practical perspective to my thesis,” Ingvild says.
“It is also important for me that someone can use my work, in this case for future applications of the monitoring programme,” she adds.
Ingvild has really enjoyed her studies at University of Copenhagen. “I find that being in such academic, international and vibrant environment where people are so knowledgeable and friendly has been a very good experience,” she says.
In her programme, half of the students are from outside of Denmark and Ingvild has enjoyed making friends from all over the world. “It’s really a mix of cultures, a mix of opinions, which opens your eyes to different social settings and, of course, varying agricultural perspectives,” she says.
After graduating, Ingvild plans on widening that perspective even further, and volunteering in a developing country. “I have thought of doing a PhD, but I need a break before that, to breathe a bit and get some practical experience. I can always come back to Denmark or Norway, but now is a good time to do something else,” she says.
Ingvild now works as a consultant in Norsk Landbruksrådgivning in Norway.