East Anglia/UK: Farming industry launches Government-backed training academy

Bill Clark, Technical Commercial Director at NIAB, and Sir Jim Paice MP, ARTIS Steering Board Chair

Bill Clark, Technical Commercial Director at NIAB, and Sir Jim Paice MP, ARTIS Steering Board Chair - Credit: Archant

A new, industry-focused training academy has been launched to keep farmers, growers and advisers up to date with the latest crop production technologies and practices demanded by the UK’s £100billion food chain.

ARTIS (Agri-Tech Register and Training for Innovation and Skills, or ARTIS, was unveiled earlier this month at NIAB Park Farm in Cambridge.

Its aim is to end the fragmented approach to training provision which is blamed for holding back the competitiveness and profitability of UK agriculture.

The project, led by the National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB), Ely-based salad and vegetable growers G’s Growers, LANTRA, the national training body for land-based skills, and horticultural crops researchers East Malling Research, will support knowledge exchange between the research base and industry.

The three-year, £3.6million programme is supported by £1m in Government funding from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES), along with industry investment.

The farming industry is perceived as lagging significantly behind other sectors in its uptake of training opportunities, with just 41% of farm businesses providing training to their staff compared with a national average of 65%.

ARTIS’s core objective is to improve the consistency, quality and accessibility of training for businesses and employers of all sizes operating in the arable, vegetable and fruit sectors.

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A network of employer-led steering groups will cover arable crops, vegetable and salad crops, fruit and soils. These will bring researchers, farmers and agronomists together with the technical representatives of major supermarkets and food processors to identify key research and topics with immediate practical and commercial benefit for growers and the food supply chain.

South-east Cambridgeshire MP Sir Jim Paice, who is chair of the ARTIS steering board, unveiled the first set of ARTIS training courses for arable, vegetable and salad growers and an industry briefing paper on the need for a new approach to training and skills provision in the agri-tech sector at the launch event.

“The UK Agri-Tech Strategy has signalled a renewed policy emphasis on productive, hi-tech agriculture, highlighting the vital role of applied research and increased collaboration between public and private sector,” he said.

“It also recognises the need to strengthen industry-level training and skills provision to support more effective uptake and application of research outputs. Sadly in the 35 years since I was a training officer it remains the case that many farmers are unwilling to invest in developing skills and knowledge.

“The ARTIS project responds directly to this challenge by ensuring that the knowledge transfer process is demand-led, based on the latest applied agricultural and horticultural research, and focused on delivering practical solutions to employers’ business needs.”

ARTIS training courses cover areas including soil management, crop nutrition, spray technology and precision farming to more specific agronomy packages focused on helping growers protect and increase yield in particular crops.

The training is delivered by accredited agronomists and trainers and aims to be flexible and responsible to business needs, ranging from field, glasshouse and classroom-based sessions to interactive on-line academies.

NIAB technical commercial director Bill Clark said there was a strong appetite among UK farmers and growers to access the latest research findings and advice.

“Although less than half of farm businesses currently provide training, our experience suggests that a much higher proportion are keen to access new knowledge and skills. Well over 90% of farmers attending NIAB open days this summer said they wanted to find out more about the training and knowledge transfer opportunities available,” he said.

“The challenge is to make training and skills development in the agri-tech sector more responsive and relevant to the needs of producers and their customers. ARTIS’ core objective is to ensure new technologies and practices with the potential to improve productivity and efficiency are transferred directly and in a usable form to farmers, growers and their advisers.”

Places on the first set of ARTIS classroom and field-based training courses, available from autumn 2014 through to spring 2015, can be booked online at www.artistraining.com. New courses will be added onto the website throughout the year with an online training programme available from Winter 2014.

Many courses will be specific to either arable, vegetable, salad or fruit crops. They will typically be one day’s training, made up of two half-day classroom and/or field-based modules, for up to 15 people. All participants receive an ARTIS Accredited Certificate and will carry the CPD points allocated by any of the relevant industry accreditation schemes. Courses are run at venues across the country and ARTIS will consider any requests for new venues and dates, as well as customised training programmes. A typical day course will cost £200 + VAT.