From a passion for rallying to agriculture

HA Ypres Rally

Automotive careers are often associated with manufacturing, dealerships, or the aftermarket, but the industry reaches far further than these obvious areas.

James McDiarmid graduated from Harper Adams University in 2018 after studying agricultural engineering and returned to his family business, a fourth-generation farm specialising in automation. But it wasn’t a straight road into the agriculture sector.

McDiarmid studied electronics at A-Level before heading to university, and it was a passion for rallying that helped steer him through his degree. And the mix of skills that he’s obtained put him in a strong position now he’s on the farm.

The engineering application in modern agriculture is easy to understand when you look at some of the machinery needed to succeed. McDiarmid’s family business includes a Gejo potato grader, the first of its kind in the UK, imported from Holland. This behemoth is 45m long, three stories tall and was purpose built in an existing building on the farm.

And when the agricultural sector gets busy it’s important to be able to think on your feet.

Operating machinery to daily targets creates huge pressures, so any down time waiting for expertise for a small repair can quickly snowball into an avalanche of costly problems. McDiarmid’s father Mike, is quick to recognise the value of his son’s transferable skills. “James quickly solves problems I found difficult to understand, his tutor for A-level electronics was instrumental in his career path and choice for an automotive qualification.”

Winning mentality

And rallying has played an important role too. McDiarmid’s motorsport career has been a successful one, with both European and UK prizes littering the home from his time with Harper Adams Motorsport as Team Manager.

And a love of motorsport runs in the family, with a father and son MK1 Ford Escort taking pride of place in the workshop. Competing and running a busy farm is challenging, the Escort’s engine has parted company from the vehicle after a disastrous water pump failure at the last event.

But McDiarmid’s quick thinking to keep the head hot with boiling water and letting the aluminium cool slowly prevented catastrophic damage, and means that he’ll soon be back competing. Though he has an exceptionally busy harvest to finish first.

Size matters

The farm’s workshop dwarfs the rally car; tractors are far larger than your average family transport, along with oversized tooling and equipment to fix them and the other machinery used to keep the business running.

This is a serious workshop currently on standby, waiting for the next emergency before it springs into action. It’s reminiscent of a motorsport setting, where preparation for the inevitable disaster is always present.  

So while agriculture and motorsport may not sound like bedfellows straightaway once you see the similarities in approach the idea of engineering, specialising in off road vehicle design, makes for a perfect skillset for the modern farming business. Let’s just hope the day-to-day challenge of running a farm doesn’t mean the MK1 Ford Escort is left engine-less for too long.

Images_ Bill Bradshaw