Easton and Otley College agricultural department welcomes more students from non-farming backgrounds
- Credit: John Nice
Youngsters from non-farming backgrounds are increasingly looking at agricultural careers, says Easton and Otley College. With the skills gap and the need to train more people post-Brexit, their commitment has never been more needed. SARAH CHAMBERS reports.
Reaching out to potential students from non-farming backgrounds is going to key to building a successful post-Brexit UK farming sector.
Easton and Otley College’s agricultural department in Suffolk has been reaching out to youngsters and their teachers in recent years to encourage them to consider a career in agriculture. It says its efforts are now bearing fruit, with a rise in students joining courses from non-farming backgrounds.
This is great news, according to farm lecturer Neil Ridley.
“Since the college merged in 2012, we were tasked with boosting the numbers of those participating on farming courses and also reaching out to the non-farming community to attract new recruits into the industry,” says Neil.
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“It’s still a work in progress, but with 17 students on our level three programme this year at Otley, with some having little or no connection to farming, our many schools visits and work within the community is beginning to pay off.”
Laura Parker, 19, from Needham Market is not from a farming background, but has just started the level three agricultural course at Easton and Otley.
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After completing her A-levels she wanted to ‘take a break from education and then see how I feel about it’. After working in the care industry for a year, she enrolled and is enjoying life at the Otley campus, which was originally opened in 1970 to help train new generations of farmers.
“Since I was a little kid, every time someone asked me what I was going to do when I was older, I always said I wanted to be a farmer,” she said.
“I’ve always liked the idea of working with animals and livestock. For the last few years my family have had a few sheep. I’ve grown to love it and want to learn more.
“So far we’ve been involved in sheep practical sessions and visited Helmingham Hall. I really want to have my own livestock farm in the long term future.”
Jonathan Goodchild aged 16, lives near Stowmarket. He lived next door to two farms growing up and was always keen to get involved in the industry.
“The first word I ever said was tractor,” he said. “So I guess it is my destiny. I love the course – the day is longer but it seems like it goes quicker.
“We are looking forward to being involved in county shows and I have a trip to Germany coming up to a big machinery show. I prefer the arable side of things so I can’t wait to go to the show called Agritechnica.
“In the future – hopefully I’ll be able to get on a farm somewhere and then one day I will be a manager.”
Lizzie Fisher, 17, from Framlingham has always loved the land. She studied her A-levels for a year at a local sixth form but has followed her passion for the outdoors by joining Easton and Otley.
“A few years back I got a job working on a pig farm and I’ve been progressing there,” she said.
“I think that the perception that people going into farming aren’t very intelligent is really unfair. Farmers have to be smart. They work with pesticides, GPS, data collection – if we make one slip up we could lose our crop – we have to know a lot.
“I also think that the perception is that farming is more of a male thing, but that’s unfair. On our course we have 17 students and six are female.
“I originally wanted to work in the catering industry but now I’m committed to farming. In the future I want to understand the industry and find my own way.”
The students have a real sense of purpose about their future involvement in the industry.
Asked ahy people should get into farming, Laura Parker replied: “You pick up a packet of crisps or eat roast beef during your Sunday dinner and everything comes from farming.
“If we don’t have food, we don’t have people. People don’t seem to respect that enough. Farming is also more technology based – tractors will probably be run by iPhones soon if they aren’t already.”
Neil Ridley, who has worked at the college for almost 30 years, said: “We have a really good group again this year and Laura, Jonathan and Lizzie are a great example to others that if you have a passion for something, you should follow that pathway. We will be doing all we can to help them – and indeed all of our students – get the skills they need to progress so that they are able to get the job of their dreams in the future.”