At the age of 17, Matthew Douglas, from Hawick, was on track to live his dream of becoming a professional rugby career, having represented Scotland at Under 17 and Under 18 level and been part of the Newcastle Falcons Academy Programme as a promising standoff. However, a serious hip injury prevented him from taking his playing career any further. Though disappointed, he still wanted to be part of the sports industry, so enrolled on an HNC in Sports Coaching at Borders College, while continuing to be involved with his local club, Hawick.
As chance would have it, the father of one of his friends at the rugby club owned a local farm and was looking for help with the harvest that year, so with a bit of encouragement, Matthew decided to take the job so he could earn money while studying for his HNC. As it turned out, it was one of the best decisions he ever made. Almost from the off, Matthew was hooked. Everything about farming appealed to him – working with his hands in the great outdoors, keeping fit and the camaraderie of working as part of a tight-knit team. It was in many ways similar to life as a professional rugby player, so was the perfect tonic after his injury.
After spending two summers with WS Davies and Son on their farm, he was eventually offered a full-time job as a general farm worker. At the same time, he decided to build on his experience by doing a Modern Apprenticeship SVQ Level 3 in Mixed Farming through Borders College. Combining theory with hands-on, practical experience, Matthew was able to work, earn and learn, whilst deepening his passion for the farming industry.
Matthew, now 24, said: “When I think about it, I’m surprised to be where I am now. I didn’t come from a farming background. My mum works as a nurse and my father for a tractor dealership. The only exposure I had to farming was the occasional visit to my uncle’s dairy farm at Newton Stewart as a kid, but I never imagined I’d end up as a farmer back then. It was all sport for me. I’m so glad I took the job at WS Davies and Son, and the Modern Apprenticeship has been really beneficial too. The training I received has brought my skills on a lot and helped me understand the wider range of knowledge needed to be a good farm worker. When I started, I couldn’t do much more than just sit in the tractor and roll a field, but now I have a skillset that I never thought would be possible. There’s a great career to be found in farming, and if you put in the effort, it can be very rewarding.”
In 2017, Matthew’s life changing decision was rewarded at Lantra Scotland’s learner of the year awards (the ALBAS), when he won the agriculture industry category, as well as a CARAS Award (Council for Awards of Agricultural Societies). He was then also asked to become one of Lantra Scotland’s Industry Champions, so helps to promote rural careers.
In 2019, Matthew moved to Kelso to start work on Kersknowe Farm, owned and managed by former Scotland rugby international, John Jeffrey. Not only a legend on the rugby field, John is also one of Scotland’s top Charolais and Simmental pedigree cattle breeders. For Matthew, his new role with pedigree cattle brought new challenges and has helped broaden his knowledge. Rubbing shoulders with one of his rugby heroes has been a bonus too.
Matthew said: “Working with John has been a real eye opener and I’m privileged to have the chance to learn from him at Kersknowe. Pedigree cattle breeding is something completely new for me – there’s a real art to improving the genetic value of the cattle through each generation, and I love the buzz when it comes to the bull sales. It is big business and very competitive, not to mention great fun.”
Recently, Matthew also had the opportunity to work in Australia for a season. He continues: “I’ve always wanted to know how other countries farm – I think it’s good to get a broader knowledge of how things are done elsewhere. In Australia, the first thing that strikes you is the sheer scale of the place. I worked a full season harvesting in Perth, then sowing down in Melbourne. One of the farms I worked on was over 350,000 acres, which I’m told is pretty small compared to some of the bigger ones which can be over 1,000,000 acres. Because of the size of the fields, you are working 12 hours a day, seven days a week to get the job done. I was also amazed at the variety of crops they grow, from oil seed rape to barley and wheat. The farmers out there have had to diversify to survive, so they have introduced different crop and livestock varieties and I think we can learn a lot from them.”
Matthew is delighted with the new direction that his working life has taken, and is happy to keep learning and gaining experience until he decides on the type of farming he wants to focus on.
“I was initially disappointed not to make it as a pro rugby player, but not any more. Farming is my new passion and the fact I get to work for a rugby legend is an added bonus. I suppose you could say I have come full circle. Farming is a great career – it is a complex business with many things to learn. Wherever I end up, I’m happy to keep developing my skills and experience. Who knows, one day I might even be running my own farm!”
Find out more about careers in agriculture here.