An East Yorkshire college is combining traditional practical studies with modern teaching methods to train the next generation of farmers.
Bishop Burton College offers a wide range of agriculture courses at both further education and degree-level.
Students benefit from gaining practical experience through weekly duties on the College’s 360-hectare mixed farm, along with using the latest technology in state-of-the-art facilities. This includes tractor and combine simulators in the College’s multi-million pound STEM Centre and Humber Renewable Centre.
It is a combination of traditional and modern teaching methods Deputy Principal Bill Meredith feels is essential in order to fully prepare the region’s future farming workforce. It is also an approach he says the College has adopted to meet a skills gap in Yorkshire.
“This is an agricultural county,” said Mr Meredith. “The farming sector is one of the region’s biggest employers, so it is vital we train the next generation of skilled workers.”
Bishop Burton, near Hull – the UK’ City of Culture for 2017 – gives students the opportunity to study at a range of different levels. They gain valuable experience working on the College’s farm, which is split between arable and grassland for livestock including sheep, dairy and beef.
Students also get to grips with precision agriculture using the latest technology and learn to operate drones to evaluate crop growth and management. In addition, they contribute towards caring for a sustainable environment and investigate climate change.
Mr Meredith says the College – a Centre of Vocational Excellence for Agriculture – has an important part to play in the future success of the farming sector.
“The primary role of further education is to produce skilled new entrants to the industry,” he said. “The average age of farmers is getting progressively older – I think approaching 59 years of age now. So we need new blood – skilled young people coming into the industry with new ideas who are ready to adopt the latest technologies, which have so much to offer, particularly around precision farming.
“There is also a big job to be done regarding the re-training of the existing workforce, through part-time and work-based routes, which is also the role of further education. There is a skills and qualifications shortfall out there that we are addressing.
“Bishop Burton College has a crucial part to play in the up-skilling of the workforce in both arable and livestock farming. We have a fantastic working mixed farm, expert teaching staff who have considerable experience of working in the industries that we serve, and unrivalled industry links that help students find employment after their studies.”
One of those links is the partnership with Agrii – the country’s leading provider of agronomy services. The College is home to Agrii’s expansion in research and development across northern England and Scotland.
Housed within the impressive Agrii Crop Technology Centre, the research team has access to dedicated laboratory facilities which have enabled them to expand their cropping trials programme on the College farm.
Bishop Burton is also a strategic research partner for Asda and its key meat suppliers. Working alongside the retailer and its partners Dunbia, Cranswick and the ABP Food Group, students work on research projects and field trials aimed at improving sustainability within the meat production industry. As well as taking an active role in numerous research and development projects, students also benefit from graduate roles at the partner organisations on completion of their studies.
Mr Meredith said: “The College’s strategic partnerships are one of its key strengths. By working alongside major companies like Agrii and Asda, students are able to develop different skills that ultimately make them more employable and, hopefully, set them up for a long and successful career in the sector.”
Those skills are further enhanced by the work of the College’s Centre for Agricultural Innovation (CAI), which offers solutions to some of the challenges facing agriculture through a combination of applied research, technology transfer and engagement with industry partners.
The CAI showcases and accesses new technology and practice, identifies and actions research and development opportunities and uses the College farm for applied research.
It all contributes towards students at Bishop Burton – which features on-site accommodation and offers free transport for all its full-time further education students – receiving the best possible education and training for a career in farming.
“We are able to offer agriculture students the full package, which is absolutely vital to ensure they are fully prepared for what lies ahead,” said Mr Meredith.
“It is wonderful to have things like the simulators because they accelerate the learning process, along with all the online materials that are available. But what you’ve got to put in place first is the basic skills and the employability skills. There is no better way of doing that than students being engaged through farm duties, as we call them.
“Working with livestock and crops and machinery on a weekly basis gives them experience of what it is like to work in the industry.
“We complement this with a state-of-the-art, modern teaching and learning environment. I think this is important because young people do now have more of an expectation of the learning environment being up-to-date and equipped with the latest technology.
“We have recently expanded our curriculum, particularly in the area of precision technology, and here at Bishop Burton we link agriculture and food production to nutrition, sport, health and wellbeing. If we can produce young people who have a better understanding of the links between the food they eat and their diet with their health and broader wellbeing, it will give them a wider range of career options.
“It is also going to produce young people who have that broader understanding of these factors and how it impacts on society more widely. So it is an interdisciplinary approach, rather than learning about one particular subject area, such as production agriculture or food manufacture, in isolation.
“We are following the vocational learning model, which relies on that blend of practical skills and related knowledge development. In so doing, the College is supporting Yorkshire’s economic growth in one of its most vibrant and important sectors.”
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