Financial boost for rejuvenated college augurs well for industry
Investment at Cannington Campus, the agricultural college for Somerset, is a sure sign of confidence in the future of farming – despite all the problems.
The county has suffered more than its fair share of hardships, visitors to the NFU Countryside Day at Cannington were told. There had been the misery of flooding on The Levels last year, leaving a lasting legacy . . . and the ongoing scourge of bovine TB.
Twenty visitors from a wide range of industry and organisations spent the morning touring the campus, which is now part of Bridgwater College.
Jeremy Kerswell, senior manager at Cannington, spoke of the decline of land-based colleges over the past 20 years – from 44 down to just 13 – but also of the resilience and revitalisation at Cannington.
There had been heavy investment at the college farm, Rodway, he said, with £1.3 million for a new milking parlour, cubicle housing and silage pits. New staffing appointments had been highly beneficial, with the balance now, at what was run as a commercial unit, "just about right".
He said: "I think one of the important elements is that we are honest about our mistakes, realising we don't get it right all the time."
Beneficial links with industry allowed the college's students to gain access to the very latest state-of-the-art tools and machinery.
With over 100 full-time agricultural students, plus 60 part-time apprentices, the college's fortunes had turned dramatically – but there was still a long way to go, said Mr Kerswell.
The development of a bio-security centre would add cutting-edge technology to the portfolio, and there was funding available to establish the best model to put in place.
The farming systems at Rodway were explained by manager Steve Jones, who spoke of the innovative methods used on the 395-acre holding, in many ways experimental. For example Belgian Blue bulls would be used on the Holstein herd for dairy beef production, while at the same time the aim was for a pasture-fed system.
There were plans for two robotic milkers, a completely different management system to keep the farm and its students "up to speed".
Mr Jones explained the philosophy, adding: "We intend to be ahead of the game, and not waiting for everyone else to do it before us, and then having to catch up."
The visitors had been welcomed by James Small, Somerset NFU county chairman, who spoke of the "vital importance" of increasing production from local supply.
"The days of fossil fuel being used to run food around the world are running out," he added, emphasising the NFU's Farming Delivers campaign message. "We should only be importing what we really need – not what is just convenient," he stressed.
The involvement of young people was paramount to the future of the industry, and while farmers' daughters and sons were still the backbone of agriculture, it was essential to encourage and involve young people from outside. There were lots of ways in, probably many more than were generally recognised.
Alex Stevens, NFU county adviser for Somerset, said the South West region: "really punches above its weight in what it produces."
He spoke of the challenges of CAP reform (seeking a simple and fair system), the awaited benefits of the Groceries Code Adjudicator in ensuring the big retailers treated their suppliers fairly, and the success of the SOS Dairy Campaign, with milk payments increasing gradually.
"For us, by using social media, it was a campaign run in a very different way to what we have done before," he explained. "We had consumers on board all the way."