Easton & Otley College principal David Henley pledges to continue investment in farming
- Credit: Archant
A drive to increase farming content at a Suffolk and Norfolk-based college is set to continue in 2017 as it seeks to become one of the most important agricultural colleges in the country.
Easton and Otley College principal David Henley, who is set to celebrate his second year in charge of the fifth largest land-based college in the country next year, said efforts to encourage a new generation to take up a farming career would continue in earnest, as he and his team try to address a sector shortfall in skills and new entrants.
“I’m well into my second year as principal of this great college and having spent the vast majority of my working life in education, I’m incredibly passionate about making sure everyone who studies with us gets an experience that they enjoy and allows them to progress,” he said.
“To ensure that happens, we have committed to an investment plan that has seen £40m of new facilities in the last 10 years. Part of the big plan since I joined is to continue with such investment, particularly within farming – so this is what we are now doing.
“The aim is to try and encourage more young people to consider the huge diversity of career opportunities that are available in agriculture and its related industries. The industry needs a variety of different skills and our agricultural investment is aimed at providing a new generation who have that wide range of skills.”
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The college has increased its agricultural investment in Suffolk, and the last 12 months has seen the farm being extended by 55 acres of land thanks to support from the Felix Thornley Cobbald Agricultural Trust.
The Charlotte Cobbald flock of ewes has expanded from 60 to over 200 thanks to continued support from farmer Stephen Cobbald, of Acton Hall, near Sudbury, a long term supporter of the college.
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The flock resides at Trinity Park from October to February and will return to Otley for lambing and the summer. A new member of staff has been employed by the college as a shepherd to help oversee this and other sheep-related developments (see page eight).
Students have recently received a new tractor at the Suffolk campus, and also have access to a new tractor simulator and similar expansion in terms of livestock, land and investment in new facilities has taken place at the Norfolk campus.
Student successes continued this year, when students came second in two national farming challenges.
In June, the college narrowly missed out on a third consecutive win in the Cereals Challenge and in November a team of four students came second in a stock judging competition, going up against 30 teams from 14 different colleges during the Smithfield Festival held in Peterborough.
College students have represented their country in a competition called Agrolympics, taken part in an international ploughing competition in Estonia, participated in a stock judging event in Paris, and attended Agritechnica, an agricultural showcase in Germany. Recently, a group of agricultural degree students went on a study tour of the Czech Republic.
Plans for the future include the creation of a farm shop in Norfolk, the development of a new suckler herds of cows in both counties and a new degree in agribiosciences which will start in September 2017.
Farm manager Andrew Vernon recently celebrated his first anniversary at the college in his present role.
“We need to do our best to up our game in terms of facilities,” he said.
“This in turn will help attract the students that we need, we will then be able to attract more staff to support the students and hopefully all of this will come together.
“Our ultimate aim is to turn out the students that industry needs – this is at the root of it all. The quality and amount of students that we have seems to be improving.
“For example, we are challenging some big hitters at national competitions and gaining success, we have had students representing their country in farming challenges and we generally do very well at our county shows in terms of showing livestock. With more investment planned we are very excited about 2017 and what it will bring us.”
Mr Henley added: “We want to be the best and we want to encourage the best to study with us – that is what is behind all of this investment in agriculture.
“As someone who grew up on a farm, I’m incredibly passionate about this and incredibly grateful for all of the support that we receive from the agricultural community in supporting our mission.”