Roots to Success: Ben Theaker

Ben smiles into camera.

Name: Ben Theaker

Age: 28

Location: Norfolk

What is your current role? Lead tractor operator and assistant manager in training on a 4,500 farm and country estate.

What path did you follow to get there? Farming was like cling film in front of my face – it was always there but, at first, I just didn’t see it as a career. I grew up on an urban housing estate with no connection to farming until my dad became head gardener on a country estate when I was 12. He encouraged me to take a summer job on the estate farm, doing basic jobs like sweeping and weeding. I worked there every summer up to taking my A-levels. My school thought I should go to university and actively discouraged me from farming, as it was viewed as an unskilled labour and not for academically talented people. My classmates also thought I was a bit strange for being interested in farming!

But I enjoyed it, so I decided to spend a year working on the farm full-time to learn more. I was gradually given increasing responsibility, which is when I realised I wanted to become really good at it. Luckily, my boss was very supportive and sponsored me to study agriculture at college.

After graduation I spent a year working on farm in America, travelling across 10 states in 10 months with a harvesting contractor. It was a fantastic learning experience that made me even more committed to developing my farming career. When I got back to the UK, I moved on from my original farm to my current job, to take on new challenges.

What training have you needed to successfully follow this path? In addition to studying at college, I have completed lots of practical training qualifications, such as using a telehandler, chainsaw operation, MIG welding and spraying. They have all helped me grow and take on more responsibility at work. Often an employer would cover the cost of these but since mine had already been very supportive of me going to college, I successfully applied for a training grant from a local agricultural society.

Describe your typical day: There is no typical day in my job, which is what I love about it. My working hours vary depending on the season, but I always start my day with a bacon and egg sandwich! The jobs I do might include spraying crops, combining, spreading fertiliser, cultivation, hedge cutting and machinery maintenance. I have a growing role as an assistant manager in training, supporting some of my colleagues in taking on new skills, which I find rewarding. I love working with people – I’m actually learning Lithuanian at the moment as we have many staff from there on the farm and it’s great to be able to connect with them a bit more than I would otherwise. I usually try to listen to a farming podcast over lunch as I like to stay up to date with what’s going on in the industry. I’ll talk to my manager first thing to plan what needs done, then again, later on, to review things and suggest any ideas I have – he is really open to that, which is great.

What is the best part about your job? If I think back to when I was younger, I realise I now have exactly what I’d hoped for in a job. I work with great people, and it comes with a lovely house too. So, the best part is that I am exactly where I want to be. Sometimes I hear people I know complaining about their jobs and feel lucky I don’t feel that way about mine.

What is the most challenging part of your job, and how do you tackle it? Everyone has bad days when things don’t go to plan. Sometimes, something might go wrong in the morning which impacts on the rest of the day, and I might start worrying about being behind. On those days, I really try to ‘big up’ what I’m doing – helping to feed the country is a great achievement and I try to look beyond the immediate worries and think about how important my work is, which really helps.

How CPD/training made a positive impact on you? It has had a very positive impact on how I have progressed at work. Being properly trained helps an employer take you more seriously and it also shows them you are eager to learn and do well.

What, if anything, have you found difficult about identifying training needs or how to get the right information? I have found it tricky to find a complete overview of all the training that is available for my role, so I can plan ahead. There are lots of different places offering training and each provides different things, at different costs, so it can be difficult to know what to go for. It would be good to be able to find everything in one place so you can see what you need to invest in, and maybe discuss it with your employer too.

What are your future career and training/CPD aspirations? My employer is supporting me to do my FACTS and BASIS qualifications which relate to the legal and safe use of pesticides and fertilisers. These will be another really important area of my development.

What advice you would give to others looking to follow a similar path? Never pigeonhole yourself and believe you will only ever get so far. There is always a way to progress and, in this industry, always people who are willing to help you. Also, doing lots of training not only gives you professional qualifications, it gives you lots of life experience and a chance to build up an amazing professional network.