Entries now open for Suffolk Agricultural Association’s Agricultural Apprentice of the Year competition

Craig's employer David Nunn, David Henley, Craig Thompson, Arnis Purins, Richard Anscombe of Fram Fa

Craig's employer David Nunn, David Henley, Craig Thompson, Arnis Purins, Richard Anscombe of Fram Farmers and Mrs Parkinson, Arnis's employer. - Credit: Archant

The Suffolk Agricultural Association has launched its annual competition to find the Agricultural Apprentice of the Year 2017, following a successful inaugural year. SARAH CHAMBERS spoke to its first title-holder, Craig Thompson, and his employer, James Nunn of Stowupland.

Craig Thompson being filmed for a promotional video (Carl Whitman is doing the filming).

Craig Thompson being filmed for a promotional video (Carl Whitman is doing the filming). - Credit: Archant

Having an apprentice on the farm has helped to provide a new dimension to his small workforce, says farmer James Nunn.

His father, David, is a former Suffolk Show director who is heavily involved in trying to encourage a new generation of farmers in the county through the Suffolk Agricultural Association (SAA), and James agreed to take on a recruit.

Easton and Otley College sent across some CVs and he decided on Craig Thompson, who comes from a non-farming background but was keen to kickstart a career in agriculture.

For James, who runs a large 1,800 acre arable operation at Poplar Farm, Stowupland, near Stowmarket, Craig, 23, stood out as a candidate because he was slightly older and had seen more of life – which he saw as a plus – was bright, and had good academic qualifications. He was also quick on the uptake and keen to try new things.

Craig Thompson.

Craig Thompson. - Credit: Archant


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Because he is young, he has grown up with new technology, also an asset in the highly computerised world that farming has become, with hi-tech machinery, and the need to keep on top of the bureaucracy.

“Craig was one of the few people with a completely non-agricultural background,” he said. “With some young people, agriculture is seen as something you can do if you can’t do anything else.”

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But other than a short stint working for Gressingham Foods at Debach, near Woodbridge, he was a farming novice.

“It was a gamble having somebody from a non-farming background but because he had this intelligence he adapted to it quite well,” he said. But the gamble paid off, and a lot of the jobs Craig has taken on on the farm, he has made his own, such as hedge-cutting.

Farming feature on apprenticeship. Pictured is Craig Thompson (farm apprentice).

Farming feature on apprenticeship. Pictured is Craig Thompson (farm apprentice). - Credit: Gregg Brown

“We are keen for him to keep developing – he’s just done a chainsaw course,” said James.

Craig launched his farming career in April 2015 and has gone from strength to strength, learning on the job and through a series of training courses. James recalls how he was being trained in using a telehandler, a process which normally takes two or three days. Craig had mastered it by midday of the first day.

As part of a small farm workforce of four, Craig has to pull his weight, but he has learnt a lot from his older and more experienced workmates. Progression on the farm is earned, and while he can drive a tractor, moving on to drilling and combining will be a gradual process.

Craig’s efforts were rewarded this year when he was crowned Suffolk Agricultural Association’s first Agricultural Apprentice of the Year, with the award presented at a special ceremony at this year’s Suffolk Show. Arnis Purins, from Framlingham, received the runner up prize.

Farming feature on apprenticeship. Craig Thompson (farm apprentice) and James Nunn (employer, right)

Farming feature on apprenticeship. Craig Thompson (farm apprentice) and James Nunn (employer, right). - Credit: Gregg Brown

The collaborative competition was set up by Easton and Otley College, Fram Farmers and Suffolk Agricultural Association to encourage more young people to consider starting a career in farming.

“I really, really love it,” Craig says of his new career. He was drawn to farming through friends, although his original ambition was to join the army. In fact, the ex-Thurston Community College student had completed basic training when he injured his knee. “That was me out,” he explained.

But farming has offered him plenty of variety, he says. “You can be cutting hdges, cleaning ditches by hand, gardening, it’s such a big variety. You can be working on the machinery, and doing paperwork next day.”

Being part of a small team was also a plus, he said. “It’s really good because it’s so small you all know each others’ strengths and weaknesses and you can bounce off each other,” he said.

Farming feature on apprenticeship. Pictured is Craig Thompson (farm apprentice).

Farming feature on apprenticeship. Pictured is Craig Thompson (farm apprentice). - Credit: Gregg Brown

“We are almost family because we know each other so well.”

But farming did have an image problem, he admitted. “I think the big problem is people think farming is still low skilled,” he said, “but this is far from the case, as the machinery is highly sophisticated. They are just computers on wheels now. They are really quite something else.”

He was “shocked” at winning the apprenticeship award, he said. “There are loads of other pprentices in agriculture out there and for someone without a background in it to come in and get it, I was over the moon,” he said. “It’s hard work – you can be absolutely knackered when you get home, but the hardest days can be when you are mentally tired.”

SAA chief executive Phillip Ainsworth launched the call for entries for the 2017 Agricultural Apprentice of the Year competition this month.

Farming feature on apprenticeship. Craig Thompson (farm apprentice) and James Nunn (employer, right)

Farming feature on apprenticeship. Craig Thompson (farm apprentice) and James Nunn (employer, right). - Credit: Gregg Brown

“We know that food, farming and the land based economy offer high skilled, attractive career opportunities for our young people,” he said. “This competition highlights that apprenticeships are a clear route into careers in the sector enabling young people to gain valuable skills and real-life experience.

“The sector is important economically to the region’s economy and it is vital that we play our part in highlighting the opportunities it offers young people.”

Richard Anscombe, chief executive of the Fram Farmers co-operative, said they were “really impressed” by the calibre of the 2016 entrants.

“Farming offers a huge variety of career opportunities and it is vital for our membership that bright, capable young people, like the 2016 winners, join our industry,” he said.

Farming feature on apprenticeship. Craig Thompson (farm apprentice) and James Nunn (employer, right)

Farming feature on apprenticeship. Craig Thompson (farm apprentice) and James Nunn (employer, right). - Credit: Gregg Brown

“An apprenticeship is an ideal way to train for these careers, the young people earn whilst they learn and their employers can train them up into the way of their business whilst also benefiting from the ideas and innovation they will bring from their studies. We are very pleased to continue to sponsor this important award in 2017 and look forward to the judging.”

The winner of the 2017 competition will receive a chainsaw user’s course at Easton & Otley College, £100, a certificate and trophy as well as two tickets to the Suffolk Show. The runner up will receive £50, a certificate and two tickets to the Suffolk Show.

Easton and Otley College principal David Henley said: “This Suffolk Agricultural Apprentice of the year competition was a great success last year and we are delighted to be involved again. It (the competition) brings the Suffolk Agricultural Association, education and industry together, to help shine a light on the exciting and diverse opportunities that are available in farming right now.

“The two winners from 2016 set a superb benchmark and they are already forging promising careers. We are hoping for a similar standard of entries in 2017.”

As a consequence of winning Craig Thompson was entered for and selected for the 2017 John Forrest Award by the Felix Cobbold Trust. The JF Award offers eight promising young agriculturalists a residential training course on media and communications skills which they will use to promote the industry, held at NIAB TAG in Cambridge and run by Green Shoots Productions.

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