Gallery: Association aims to plant the seed to get more youngsters into farming

Suffolk Agricultural Association has organised for a tractor to visit Wickham Market Primary School

Suffolk Agricultural Association has organised for a tractor to visit Wickham Market Primary School to promote and encourage kids into farming and a chance to learn more about tractors. Pictured is Ryan Chapman. - Credit: Gregg Brown

An initiative is being launched to teach young people across Suffolk more about farming, and the career opportunities it provides.

The Suffolk Agricultural Association (SAA) was at Wickham Market Community Primary School to start the Tractors in Schools crusade, helping children across the county understand farming, as well as getting them thinking about the job opportunities in agriculture and associated industries.

Year four and five pupils got to take a look at a tractor and learn about the machinery that can be used by the vehicle. Some pupils asked questions about the tractor, while others marvelled at the size of it, measuring themselves against the rear wheels, which dwarfed the youngsters.

The SAA, which organises the annual Suffolk Show and already has a number of educational initiatives, is aiming to change the perceptions of farming. Many people still have outdated views of the job being a long, hard day’s work for little money for people with no qualifications.

As an example of the change, tractor drivers these days have to be extremely computer-literate to operate the ever-changing technology in the cab, have good GCSEs in English and Maths, and can earn up to £40,000 a year.

In the last week of February, dozens of farmers will take their tractors to primary schools across the county to start building what it is hoped will be ongoing close relationships.

David Nunn, chairman of the SAA education committee, said: “By putting a tractor into all the primary schools we hope to bring children closer to their local farms.

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“In doing this we should create a greater awareness of where our food comes from and help understand the importance of our environment.

“I think it’s fair to say most children’s only experience of a tractor is being stuck behind one on the road. This will be an opportunity to get up close and ask what it is they really do.”

The initiative is also looking to promote healthy eating. Robert Rous, SAA chairman, said: “What is going on in the fields of Suffolk is important for the food we eat, our recreation, and the environment in which we live.

“With so much happening just outside the school gate it seems obvious that as part of the curriculum children should learn from the farmers who surround them. I believe that the Tractor in Schools initiative will help.”

Bruce Kerr, a farmer and trustee of the SAA who took one of his tractors to the initiative launch, said: “I read somewhere that only 40% of the county’s children have a link to agriculture. We have got to raise the profile of farming. We want to make people understand what they’re eating, and find the next generation of recruits. The initiative is about helping the agriculture industry, which needs to express itself in a way that’s attractive.

“By engaging with the colleges and the schools, we’ll be promoting that it’s an attractive industry to work in. We can go into the classrooms and show what farmers make.

“Agriculture is the largest employer in Suffolk. There’s a thriving economy on the back of agriculture and food. It’s not just primary agriculture, it the next stage beyond that.

“I’ve got a tractor that costs a quarter of a million pounds. We need to find the next generation of people who can maintain that piece of kit. We will need more recruits and it’s becoming a more technical job. We need numerate and literate recruits.”

Mr Kerr also said it was the aim of the SAA to keep the profile up, and added: “We’ve got to be aware that it might turn that switch, it’s about planting the seed.”

Mr Kerr said he would like to see the initiative become self sustaining, so schools approach the farmers. “It’ll be judged on repeat visits, without our interaction. We want to make sure we can establish a relationship between schools and the farmers.

“If schools ring a farmer and ask him to come in to explain the issues in the news in a child friendly way, that, as an industry is what we should be doing.”

Terry Hunt, President Elect of the SAA and EADT editor, said: “Agriculture has been hugely important in Suffolk for centuries. It is vitally important that our children understand what farmers do, and are also aware of the career opportunities that exist. Too many people have outdated perceptions which put them off even thinking about working in the industry.

“The SAA already has many brilliant educational projects. The Tractors in Schools initiative will create an exciting and memorable experience for many children and, allied with the other work being undertaken by the SAA and its partners, will increase youngsters’ awareness both of what farming is all about, and the career opportunities there are.’’

Joanne Stanley-Bell, principal of Wickham Market Primary School, which is part of the Avocet Academy with Leiston and Easton primary schools, said: “It’s about creating links with the farming community, and making children aware of the opportunities in farming.

“We’ll be engaging with the local community more and, linked with our future careers scheme, it’ll help raise awareness of the opportunities in agriculture.”

If your school would like to take part in Tractors in Schools, please call Hannah Woods or Helen Fomenko at the SAA on 01473 707118 or 01473 707124.