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Farmers urged to re-think attitude to training and ‘human capital’

Nicola Currie, apprenticeship ambassador at Easton and Otley College. Picture: Su Anderson.

Nicola Currie, apprenticeship ambassador at Easton and Otley College. Picture: Su Anderson.

East Anglian farmers must urgently rethink their priorities on staff training and development if they are to keep pace with looming changes to their industry.

David Horton-Fawkes, pictured at the Holkham Estate. Picture: Ian Burt David Horton-Fawkes, pictured at the Holkham Estate. Picture: Ian Burt

That is the message from Easton and Otley College ahead of an event aiming to stimulate debate on how farm managers and landowners can get the best from the people they work with.

Nicola Currie, the college’s apprenticeship ambassador, said farmers needed to invest more energy into equipping themselves and their staff for a “time of great change”, with Brexit bringing the potential for major upheavals to agricultural policies and economics.

“It’s a fascinating incite into our industry,” she said. “A year ago I organised a similar meeting to discuss farm water supply which was fully booked. This time we have about half the interest to date.

“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? As someone who specialised in farm business management I find this a very odd approach to investment.

Sally Bendall of Hollow Trees Farm. Picture: SHAN BENDALL Sally Bendall of Hollow Trees Farm. Picture: SHAN BENDALL

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

The college is hosting a free farmers’ meeting, chaired by BBC Radio 4 Farming Today presenter Anna Hill, featuring three speakers on the subject of staff development and succession:

• David Horton-Fawkes, former estates director at Holkham in north Norfolk, will explain the benefit of giving farm staff 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 near Ipswich, including its award-winning farm shop and schools farm trail, will talk about the firm’s specially-designed training programme, which gives extra support for those from non-farming backgrounds.

• Robert England, director of Boxford Suffolk Farms, near Sudbury, will outline the succession policy which has enabled the business to expand by keeping the extended family involved, while bringing in specialists with extra skills.

The free event, named: “Nurturing our human capital – farming’s least recognised asset” is sponsored by Barclays Bank and will be held at the college’s Easton campus, near Norwich, on February 8 from 4pm. To book a place, contact nicola.currie@eastonotley.ac.uk.

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