Sunday, November 19, 2017

Safeguarding the future of farming

March 19, 2013 by  
Filed under Profiles

More than 300 agricultural apprentices are to be recruited within two years in a new joint initiative launched this month by Easton&Otley College, Anglia Farmers and AtlasFram. Judith Tooth reports.

The £1.4 million Growth and Innovation Fund award from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills will promote apprenticeships within farming and the landbased sector in East Anglia, and builds on a growing involvement by employers in the newly merged colleges.

The merger between Otley College, Suffolk and Easton College, Norfolk, has proved a springboard for new ideas and fresh optimism. Many challenges lie ahead but, by working together and sharing resources, training opportunities are set to reach more students of all ages and abilities from East Anglia and beyond.

“The merger was the culmination of a lot of work,” says head of landbased studies, Martyn Davey, “and we had a lot of local community support for it. Easton was becoming too small to be a major player and Otley was at the point where it, too, was vulnerable to takeover. In this equal merger each college keeps its identity and specialist training in agriculture and horticulture.

“Our principal, David Lawrence, has worked really hard promoting landbased education and developing the training of students in East Anglia, and was recently made an OBE in recognition of his dedication.”

Traditionally Otley’s strength was in construction and other areas, while Easton was very solid in agriculture and land-based engineering. Conversely agriculture at Otley had been struggling for a number of years, and Easton had never been strong on construction. Sharing skills brings each campus new opportunities – now, for example, there are 45 construction students at Easton, and more land has been taken on at Otley to develop agricultural training.

“Our neighbouring farmer at Otley, John Taylor, is a tenant of the Felix Cobbold Trust and very supportive of the college,” says Martyn. “The students can walk his crops to study their different growth stages, and he takes them on farm tours and gives them lots of information.”

In the next few years, the Otley campus will be improving facilities by taking down some buildings to open up the centre of the site and putting up a barn for livestock and straw storage on a neighbouring field. Students will be able to gain experience in showing with a new pedigree flock of Suffolk sheep; a beef unit will be set up rearing and finishing bull calves from Easton’s dairy herd, and a pig rearing unit is also under consideration.

Among many courses including arboriculture, countryside and gamekeeping, and equine studies for 16 year-olds and above, the two campuses offer one-year BTEC Level 2 Diplomas and two-year Level 3 Diplomas – equivalent to three A levels – in agriculture and in landbased engineering. They, along with mature learners on landbased access courses, can progress to a Foundation or Honours Degree in agriculture, validated at Easton by the University of East Anglia, and at Otley by University Campus Suffolk.

“Of course there are advantages to going away to study, but a degree on your doorstep is an attractive option,” says Martyn. “The level of teaching is the same, the units of study similar, and costs can be much lower. We have several students currently on the degree course at Easton who already had part-time work they didn’t want to give up, and lots of friends and contacts – why go out of the county when they could stay?”

Opportunities on key stage 4 learning programmes have suffered a setback as the nationally recognised qualifications they lead to no longer count in school league tables. The courses, which at their peak brought in 600 14-16 year olds one day a week to work in the countryside with animals, plants and machinery, and in agricultural engineering and machinery, currently have 250 students.

“Schools really want five straight GCSEs, so now it’s only those young people really desperate to come and learn with us who get here. We have schools liaison officers at both campuses and a strong schools team to help with schools educational events such as Spring Fling at the Norfolk Showground in April. We need to get the message to schools that there is a desperate for need in the landbased sector for more skilled people.

“I’m very keen to see that opportunities are promoted among young people, that career opportunities are offered to them. The vast majority of land-based students will go on to get jobs. The focus at both Norfolk and Suffolk Shows this year is on careers in agriculture – it’s nice to go to your county show for a day out, but you could be more involved, have a future in farming.”

There are also educational and training opportunities for farmers wanting to develop areas of knowledge without having to go away to study. Easton&Otley College has strong links with research institutes through the Centre for Contemporary Agriculture, a working group partnership between the college, UEA, the John Innes Centre, the Institute for Food Research and NIAB TAG. CCA runs courses for farmers in high level subjects such as crop breeding and soil monitoring.

“This initiative gives us the opportunity to work with high level organisations and get the best information, which can then filter down through all the courses we offer,” says Martyn.

“We are also drawing down funding from DEFRA and the Rural Development Programme for England for our CCA Landskills training in marketing, benchmarking and supply chain, and land management, which pays for 70 per cent of training costs for people in industry.”

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