Rhona Campbell-Crawford didn’t come from a farming background – it was her passion for horses that led her to helping out Mary McCall Smith at Connachan Farm in Perthshire.

“My first experience in farming came about after getting the opportunity to help with the Highland ponies at Connachan,” she explains. “From then, I slowly got more involved with the Blackface sheep.

“Mary was a real keystone for me, and I don’t think I would be where I am without her encouragement and patience.”

The experience set Rhona on a career path that she didn’t expect, securing a lifelong passion for agriculture.

The Scottish Farmer: Rhona works for SAC ConsultingRhona works for SAC Consulting

“I used to get the bus up to Connachan after school and on the weekends to help out on the farm and my school holidays often consisted of lambing and tup sales,” she recalls. “I learned all about pedigree Blackies and it pushed me to consider a future in sheep farming.”

Rhona went to study agriculture at SRUC Oatridge when she left school in order to develop her practical skills. In between that, she took various jobs that allowed her to work on the farm.

“I did whatever I could get – lambings, harvest work, relief milking, anything! You do have to be honest about what you don’t know and it’s good to be humble. When I started my harvest job at Willie Ralston’s, I had never even driven a big tractor let alone reversed a trailer or run a grain drier! If the passion is there and you are open to learning, then most farmers will teach you these skills.”

Despite COVID hindering some of the practical elements during her time at Oatridge, Rhona still took every opportunity she could.

The Scottish Farmer: Rhona taking part in the beef demonstation at AgriscotRhona taking part in the beef demonstation at Agriscot

“I was one of the few that didn’t come from farming, so I relished every experience we had. When other students wouldn’t bother to show up for their lambing shifts, my lecturer could always rely on me to take the slot. Joy Miller was one of my great lecturers at Oatridge and she really nurtured my practical skills, whether that was giving me the chance to vaccinate a whole pen of calves myself or prepare heifers for showing at AgriScot.”

Not being from a farming family did sometimes leave Rhona feeling a little different from her peers.

“Definitely in my first years at Oatridge I sometimes felt out of place because many of the other students were only there for one to two years. I would get called teacher’s pet because I worked hard and took every opportunity that was given to me. I’m glad I had the resilience to work through it because it’s not something easily overcome.”

After her two years at Oatridge, Rhona chose to pursue her education further at SRUC’s Edinburgh campus. In her third year, she got the chance to do a placement with SAC Consulting, split between the Lanark and Stirling offices.

The Scottish Farmer: Rhona won the British Farming award for Agriculture Student of the Year in 2022Rhona won the British Farming award for Agriculture Student of the Year in 2022

“It was good to get the placement as it gave me a grounding in consulting work. It basically worked like a two-way interview. Not only were you able to prove yourself in the role, but you could also see if that kind of work is for you. Off the back of that placement, I was offered a full-time position with them when I graduated.”

In 2022, Rhona’s hard work was recognised and rewarded by winning the British Farming Awards Agricultural Student of the Year (Gold). In the same year, she was also a finalist in the AgriScot Business Skills Awards.

“I was kindly nominated by my lecturers Craig Davidson (Edinburgh) and Joy Miller (Oatridge), but I genuinely wasn’t expecting to win it. Up against a lot of high-flying Harper Adams students, I was delighted to even make the final. When I was announced as the gold winner at the awards, I was shocked. I will never forget that moment.

“I did the Agriscot Business Skills Awards just after that which was probably the scariest thing I’ve done. It’s seriously hard work in a short space of time but I would encourage others to do it as it really pushes you out of your comfort zone and you can learn a lot.”

Rhona graduated last August with her BSC (Hons) Agriculture after doing her final dissertation studying sheep farmer opinions on OPA. Now 22 years old, Rhona has been working at SAC Consulting (Stirling) since the start of the year.

“I’m finding the consulting side of things quite rewarding – staying on at SRUC until fourth year definitely helped me with my understanding of that part of the business.

“I’m finding that because I don’t come from farming, I don’t go into anything with preconceptions that I maybe would have if I grew up with it. I’ve never let my non-farming background hold me back – some of those early years at Oatridge were hard but I was fortunate that my lecturers at SRUC always encouraged me to do my best. Without them, I certainly wouldn’t be where I am today.”

Outside of her work at SAC Consulting, Rhona has a small flock of commercial sheep consisting of Suffolk and Blackface ewes that are crossed to a Texel cross tup. She also has a couple of rare breed Soays that she was gifted with. All her animals are based near her home in Crieff, and she trades under the flock name ‘Stonecroft’.

“I aim to sell some prime and store lambs at market because I do want to keep my hand in. It means I can practise what I preach – whether it’s rotational grazing, animal health, or successful breeding. In the future, I hope to build up the flock so I can have a fully commercial holding, but we will see how it goes. In the meantime, I am very grateful for what I have.”

For Rhona, her passion for horses does still remain, and she regularly competes in British Eventing fixtures in Scotland and Northern England with her horse Agent Fella.