Ellen Marks recently graduated from Queen’s University Belfast and CAFRE the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise, with a degree in agricultural technology.
While on placement from uni she previously worked part-time for NSF Verify within NI on a pilot program focusing on Northern Ireland’s beef industry.
She also undertook a placement year with McDonald’s, as a progressive young farmer working within McDonald’s beef supply chain alongside OSI Food Solutions and ABP Food Group.
Ellen recently joined ubloquity as its agri tech manager having got to know Kieran Kelly while at NSF.
She is a farmer herself and alongside her father and sister is applying data analytics and using innovative techniques in order to drive efficiencies on her farm, and operate in a more sustainable way that is better for the environment.
While on her placement with McDonalds, there were nine other placement students who were working in other sectors like the poultry industry, the egg industry, so Ellen got to visit them too and see all aspects of the entire McDonald’s supply chain. She got to see things she would otherwise not have had the opportunity to see, including farmers who were really pushing the boundaries in terms of regenerative agriculture and Holistic Management Practices.
In the future, she would like to see that when you walk into a shop, you take your phone out, you scan a QR code on a product, and it can tell you exactly where this product has come from. It’s ‘farm to fork’ journey. Full traceability of that product.
And her advice to other young farmers just starting out, like she was before going to uni, ask plenty of questions. Talk to as many people within the industry as you can. Make those contacts, make those networks. Get to know people get to know what companies are doing.
Ellen is active, driven and chatty – the 3 words she would use to describe herself.
I challenge you to disagree!
Ellen Marks, Dom Burch
Dom Burch 00:11
Welcome back to the ubloquity podcast with me Dom Burch. This is the we connect everything podcast where we get to speak to farmers, technologists, blockchain experts and people around the industry and I’m delighted this way to welcome to the podcast Ellen Marks. Now Ellen has just joined ubloquity so is in her first few weeks with the organisation but already for someone so young has already had quite a glittering career. Ellen, welcome to the podcast.
Ellen Marks 00:37
Hi, Dom, thanks very much for having me.
Dom Burch 00:38
So what brings you to ubloquity then give us a little bit of background to you.
Ellen Marks 00:42
So I’ve actually just finished a degree in agricultural technology alongside Queen’s University Belfast and CAFRE the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise. But before that, I took a placement year last year where I was part of the McDonald’s progressive young farmer scheme. We worked on a lot of different farms throughout their whole entire beef supply chain, which was extremely informative. We got a lot of experiences made a lot of contacts and networks. But whenever that placement finished in July last year, I had noticed that there was a three month placement opportunity before university started over the summer with NSF Verify. And this was as an agricultural intern working on a pilot programme in Northern Ireland. And I thought to myself, Oh, that sounds like something that I would really like to do so I applied for it. Anyway, one evening, I was driving home and Kieran Kelly phoned me and I pulled in on we did a phone call interview while I sat in the car, then I took the job that evening.
Dom Burch 01:37
Fantastic. I love that I love that. You just pull over the side of the road and have your interview there and then. There’s nothing like having to think on your feet. Ellen, tell us a little bit about this degree, though. Because I guess there’d be some people listening who don’t realise that agriculture and technology are now going hand in hand. And I guess, you know, the fact that there’s a degree on the topic and the subject means things are really beginning to move on, aren’t they in the sector?
Oh, absolutely. It’s one of those things. So it’s like anything, if you don’t adopt and move forward, you get left behind. But within agriculture, like there’s always room for improvement, there’s always room for change. And I think with this degree, that really promotes that as well. We learn a lot of different things from on the ground, working with animals right through to new innovative technology that’s common, right, you get opportunities like this, working on placement programmes, you can take a full year placement, you can split your placement up and take two six-months placements, things like that too, and you can just take on as much as you want. Really, it’s up to you how much you want to do. I have learned so much over my past four years, and the people I’ve met as well, it’s the people that you connect with too because sometimes within the agriculture industry, it takes you to get onto other people’s farms. I can’t believe that that’s what they do. That’s a fantastic innovative idea.
Dom Burch 02:45
Yeah, that’s interesting, isn’t it that thing when you’re at university, and you’re learning a lot of the theory, and you’re picking up new skills, and you know, reading about how technology is changing, but then to be able to actually go out as a placement and see that in action and actually be on somebody else’s farm. really opens your eyes doesn’t it to new horizons?
Ellen Marks 03:02
Yeah, absolutely. It definitely does, especially with the McDonald’s progressive young farmers placement, it was a fantastic opportunity to do that as well. Because while I was on the beef placement, specifically, there were nine other placement students with me at the time who were working probably in like the poultry industry, the egg industry, the meat industry, things like that. And we got to visit around on their placements as well. So it gave us great opportunities to see all aspects of the entire McDonald’s supply chain and and learn things that you’ve maybe never really would have had the opportunity to see before.
Dom Burch 03:33
Now, I was talking to somebody yesterday about what they look for when they’re recruiting people. And one of the things that comes out is curiosity, that sort of eagerness to kind of learn new things, look around at the industry, even look outside of the industry you’re working in to pick up ideas, and then to find ways to apply them into the job that you’re doing. What are the things that you’ve already picked up on because in that placement year, and you were out on farm with, you know, agriculture ministers, and I guess leading edge farmers who are really, really pushing the envelope, aren’t they trying to use technology and data in order to improve both what they do on farm but also to be able to then track that product through its entire lifecycle.
Ellen Marks 04:10
For me whenever I was on placement with McDonald’s, I was based on a farm in Wiltshire, who were a fantastic young couple. And they were really pushing the boundaries in terms of regenerative agriculture and Holistic Management Practices. And so this is a huge talking point and especially within the within the agriculture industry, like in terms of sustainability of beef production, and things like that. It is all environmental, the one thing that stood out was their regenerative practices, and also that they were so frequently measuring data and capturing data on their farm and in terms of constantly weighing animals or measuring different aspects of like animal progress or daily live weight gains, or 500 day weights, and they recorded all this information. So whenever I returned home to our home farm with my dad and my sister, the first thing we did was we got a set of weigh scales in for weighing all our animals, and we set up with an on farm app well. So it’s really good for me to be on someone else’s farm, see these things in practice and take it home and make changes on our own farm at home.
Dom Burch 05:12
And I guess it’s one thing, isn’t it generating data and actually recording different statistics, but then how you use that information and turn it just from being numbers on a spreadsheet into really actionable insights that help you improve what you’re doing become more sustainable even? How is it that you’re seeing technology move like that? Because I guess, you know, just collecting it is only like the first stage, isn’t it of something that is so much more developed.
Ellen Marks 05:38
A lot of on farm apps already use this data and put it into ways that you can understand or make management decisions on your farm. So like, for instance, if you’re weighing an animal, like that animal should be this weight, in so many days, so that automatically generates what we would call a daily live weight game. So we can say that that animal puts on this much weight per day. And is this good? Or is this bad? Does this animal need extra feeding? Does it need this? Is there something wrong? Is there underlying problems here. It can provide you with all that information to ask questions. I’ve always said all along like, you cannot manage what you don’t measure, there’s no way to be able to manage something if you have no idea what’s actually going on in the background without those figures, or without that data.
Dom Burch 06:18
So let’s turn a little bit to ubloquity right so you’ve you know, at the perfect time, and this is how you know, serendipity works its magic sometimes doesn’t it. You’ve just come through an agriculture and technology degree. You’ve been on the progressive farming placement with McDonald’s and with the cohort of people that you’re with you’ve learned so much and just witnessed, I guess firsthand some really, really innovative farming techniques. Now you’ve joined ubloquity, what is it that you’re looking forward to getting stuck in with now that you’re part of this, well, I guess innovation and technology company?
Ellen Marks 06:47
For me it is basically what you said it’s innovation and technology, it is moving forward within the industry. And it’s creating change, and creating a sort of a community of change and an environmental of change, people are going to get involved and say like that’s really working, or that’s something that’s actually making a difference. But not even for animal performance and things like that, it is even for financial performance on farms, that’s everybody knows farmers work really, really hard, long hours at different times of the year, seasonal work, that kind of thing, plus when sharing their work life balance on farm, reducing workload with this technology to just cuts down on time or duplication of work. So for me, that’s a huge thing as well, is a work life balance for farmers. But also there is an environmental sides of it to like being able to measure so many parameters like this, like you can move into the environmental aspects of it. How can we make changes, using this technology to better our practices in terms of mitigating climate change problems, and or ensuring the traceability of products and is also promoting really, really good Northern Irish products. In Northern Ireland, we’re over producing a lot of things, our lamb, our beef, everything like that. And we produce fantastic products. And I suppose that’s one of the only benefits that’s coming from the likes of the pandemic or something like that is taking people to realise that we actually have fantastic products and local shops and your butchers in your farm shops, things like that. You know where it’s come from, you know all the information about it. But this technology can also back that up in a sense that’s written to the blockchain that can never be changed. And that’s always visible for the consumers.
Dom Burch 08:19
So as you look ahead then into the future, what are the you know, and being somebody that’s at the start of their burgeoning career, I guess, looking out, you know, years ahead, what are the things that excite you about the future of agriculture, using the technology that ubloquity has developed?
Ellen Marks 08:34
For me, I would love to see in years to come, where you can walk into the shop, you take your phone out, you scan a QR code on a product, and it can tell you exactly where this product has come from. It’s pretty much its Farm to Fork journey. It’s a full traceability of that product. And consumers are then backed up knowing like I know exactly that this product has come from County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, produced by such and such and this is how it got to the shelf, you know, where sometimes we’re going into supermarkets at the minute you might lift up a packet of potatoes or something and it is saying British potatoes or Northern Irish potatoes and a small box in the corner, it’s produced in France, or somewhere, you know, that traceability isn’t actually there and I think that’s what consumers need to restore their confidence and in our farmers. And I think this technology is what can do that.
Dom Burch 09:26
And as somebody who you know, already is, comes from a farming background yourself, you’ve studied agriculture. What would your message be to other young farmers like yourself, who are just at the start of their career? What are the two or three things that they ought to be doing now in order to get ready for the future which is coming, whether they like it or not!
Ellen Marks 09:45
For me, if somebody had to give me some advice in my first year of university, or even before I started my degree, I’d say to them to ask plenty of questions. Talk to as many people within the industry as you can. Make those contacts, make those networks. Get to know people get to know what companies are doing. Like a lot of companies are doing some really fantastic work right there. And it wasn’t I went and placements, until it really opened my eyes as to what companies were doing in terms of net zero farming, or sustainable beef networks and things like this. And, and I had no idea about this before. I’d studied in university for two years before tech placement and I had no clue about any of these kind of things. So I’d say to a lot of young people in the industry to get on to webinars like now, because of the pandemic, a lot of things are more accessible in that sense as well. You don’t have to travel very far to get there, a lot of them are free and a lot of them are run by some fantastic institutes here like CAFRE and things like that, to try and get on to all that kind of stuff. Take in as much as you can, even outside of university as well and make as many contacts within the industry as you can. I would say networking is a huge part of it.
Dom Burch 10:50
Absolutely. Well listen, Ellen, thank you so much for coming on to the we connect everything podcast. I’m just gonna end because everything will we do at ubloquity, we like to do in threes and I asked you probably unfairly to give me three words that describe you at your best and you said ‘active driven and chatty’. Well, listen, having chatted to you for the last 10 or 15 minutes. I can absolutely guarantee people Ellen is active and she is one hell of a driven young farmer. So thank you so much for coming onto the podcast.
Ellen Marks 11:16
Thanks very much for having me Dom.
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