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'Next generation key for farms as pace of change picks up'

PUBLISHED: 11:24 17 November 2019

Viv Gillespie, principal of Suffolk New College, at Otley College campus  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Viv Gillespie, principal of Suffolk New College, at Otley College campus Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

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Our next generation of farmers will need enormous energy and drive - coupled with creativity and technical skills - in order to surmount the many challenges they will face, say sector leaders.

National Farmers' Union (NFU) East Anglia regional director Rachel Carrington  Picture: WARREN HEATHNational Farmers' Union (NFU) East Anglia regional director Rachel Carrington Picture: WARREN HEATH

Viv Gillespie, principal of Suffolk New College says advances in technology are creating "a radical agricultural revolution" which will need highly-skilled people moving into farming.

The Ipswich-based further education college is poised to take over land-based education provision in Suffolk once Easton and Otley College is broken up at the end of this year, with Otley campus coming under its auspices.

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"We must ensure that the role of farming is not underestimated and is seen as leading to exciting career paths," she said.

"We need to attract young people who are interested in food security, local sourcing, sustainability and the environment, as well as more 'traditional' agriculture."

Easton and Otley College  principal Jane Townsend Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNEaston and Otley College principal Jane Townsend Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Creativity and technical skills will become increasingly important to enable farms to become more competitive, 
feed a growing population, and create products that discerning consumers want, she added.

Jane Townsend, principal of Easton and Otley College, said farmers across the region were telling her that they wanted people able to hit the ground running. As a result, Otley is working with several partners on a 'farm ready students' scheme.

"I believe this teamwork between industry, education and the next generation will hold the key in helping to positively revolutionise the sector," she said.

"Those coming into the sector need to be passionate and energetic about making a difference and changing the world. I think that people need to have an open mind and a willingness to do things differently," she said.

"Farming is such a crucial industry to this region, the UK and the planet as a whole. It's fast-paced and every day is different. There are a variety of roles to choose from so if you can be adaptable, flexible, inventive and you can problem solve - you will go far.

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National Farmers' Union (NFU) regional director Rachel Carrington said the industry had changed dramatically in the past 30 years and predicted it will undergo major changes in the next 30.

"The next generation must meet the challenge of feeding a growing population while protecting and enhancing the environment and mitigating climate change impacts," she said.

"We're likely to see a technological revolution within agriculture. This will include increased use of robotics and new cropping techniques, alongside a smaller farm workforce. Farmers will also have to adapt to meet new markets. It's vital they have the skills in place to prepare them for the task."

Nicola Currie, apprenticeship ambassador at Easton and Otley College, said farming's future workers would need "an enquiring mind coupled with a flexible approach"'

"Of course all the core skills continue to be essential, but with population growth, increasing urbanisation and climate change we need so much more," she said.

"As agriculture advances through its technological revolution it is the people who can scythe through the mass of data and information to spot what is critical for their farming business that will excel."

Every business is different, she pointed out, but shared common aspects too. "I would like to see farming students studying modules on food and nutrition and vice versa so those who grow the ingredients understand the challenges being tackled by our food industry as much as they understand the issues faced by their own."

David Nunn, chairman of Suffolk Agricultural Association (SAA) - which is running a number of initiatives to encourage more youngsters into the sector including the SAA Rising Star Award and Young Apprentice of the Year, which is run in conjunction with Easton and Otley - believes the next generation of young farmers will have to understand and have a more sympathetic approach to food production by learning to farm with fewer agrochemicals while producing more.

"We will need to encourage people able to work with new technologies into agriculture. Diversification will also play an important part in the future, to support our core business activities, whilst also allowing increased public access to the countryside," he said.

Fram Farmers chairman Rodney Baker-Bates said the digital revolution had produced tools that were unthinkable to previous generations such as satellite navigation, drones, automated ordering and self-drive tractors.

"The speed at which the next generation adopt these technologies will define their success in this new digital age."

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