Farming feature: Farming ‘needs to improve training track record’

Nicola Currie. Picture: SU ANDERSON

Nicola Currie. Picture: SU ANDERSON - Credit: Su Anderson

As Easton and Otley College prepares to host an event promoting farming’s ‘human capital’, its apprenticeship ambassador, Nicole Currie, argues that it pays for farmers to invest in staff as well as their ‘big kit’. However, too many are neglecting this vital part of their business which will be crucial for its future viability, she says

Robert England, Boxford Suffolk Farms. Picture: BOXFORD FARMS

Robert England, Boxford Suffolk Farms. Picture: BOXFORD FARMS - Credit: Archant

Employees are the backbone of our businesses. It is their commitment and involvement which ensures that a business can grow and adapt to change.

This ability to rethink and move with the times will be even more vital in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ (DEFRA) brave new world of farming post-Brexit.

Now is the time of year when many farmers are off to the machinery shows to check out the latest big kit. How many are investing the same amount of thought into ensuring their staff have the right training so they can give of their best, the very same people who will be using all that expensive technology?

Farming’s track record of staff training is, let’s be honest, mixed; it ranges from the fantastic to the non-existent. This is in contrast with the next generation of farmers, many of whom do so much to keep on top of the latest developments.

Sally Bendall, Hollow Trees Farm. Picture: GREGG BROWN

Sally Bendall, Hollow Trees Farm. Picture: GREGG BROWN - Credit: Archant


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“I want to give farmers and land managers time and the tools to adapt to the future, so we avoid a precipitate cliff edge but also prepare properly for the changes which are coming,” were environment secretary Michael Gove’s words at Oxford.

This sounds like an echo from the early nineties when tax breaks were introduced to enable unprofitable dairy units to close down ‘with dignity’.

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Many who failed to grasp that opportunity later regretted it. Those who took it had scope to learn new skills and adapt to change.

Consultants use the phrase ‘Human Capital’. Easton and Otley College is holding a free farmers’ meeting which asks if human capital is farming’s least recognised asset.

Too often staff development is the Cinderella of farm business planning, yet we know that training is key in all the most successful businesses. The college wants to help change this. It is so important not to get trapped in the bubble of being too busy with the day-to-day. We want to initiate the debate in our region by bringing together a diverse panel of speakers to help farmers start the discussion on how they think they should to be investing in themselves and their staff to prepare for this time of great change.

Those work-based training certificates: PA1, PA2 Forklift truck operator and the rest are not the answer. Necessities, yes, but too many farming businesses stop there, tick the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) box and feel they have done all that is needed. Good training gives buy into a business, makes people feel valued and helps retention.

Three speakers will show the innovative way they work with their staff to ensure everyone has the knowledge they need to contribute fully to their business, including a very successful model of succession planning within a family business.

David Horton-Fawkes, chief executive of Gascoyne Estates who was until recently estates director at Holkham, will explain why their farm staff are given training sessions with soil and crop scientists to ensure everyone fully understands what the business is doing and why.

Sally Bendall, managing director of Hollow Trees Farm with its national award winning farm shop and schools farm trail, has created a training programme specially designed to train the young people she employs with extra support for those from non-farming backgrounds.

Boxford Suffolk Farms director Robert England will outline the Peake family succession policy which has enabled the business to expand so successfully, keeping the extended family involved but enabling the business to employ people like himself who bring the extra skills as and when they are needed.

Chaired by BBC Radio 4 Farming Today’s Anna Hill, the evening will end with a discussion from the floor.

‘Nurturing our human capital – farming’s least recognised asset’ is free to all farmers. It is being held at Easton and Otley Easton campus on Thursday, February 8, from 4pm and is sponsored by Barclays Bank.

Contact nicola.currie@eastonotley.ac.uk to book a place.

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