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Make farming training and practises suitable for the future, panelists say

PUBLISHED: 05:30 29 June 2019 | UPDATED: 05:50 29 June 2019

Easton College principal Jane Townsend speaking at the agri-food panel debate at the Royal Norfolk Show. Picture: Chris Hill

Easton College principal Jane Townsend speaking at the agri-food panel debate at the Royal Norfolk Show. Picture: Chris Hill

Chris Hill

Modern thinking in agricultural education and practice is needed to keep the workforce fit for purpose, according to industry experts.

Easton College principal Jane Townsend speaking at the agri-food panel debate at the Royal Norfolk Show. Picture: Chris HillEaston College principal Jane Townsend speaking at the agri-food panel debate at the Royal Norfolk Show. Picture: Chris Hill

A panel debate at the Royal Norfolk Show heard from educators and businesses that more needed to be done to equip students with professional skills fit for the modern agri-food sector.

Jane Townsend, principal at Easton and Otley College, said East Anglia's agriculture industry was in danger of falling behind due in part to talented graduates seeking work elsewhere.

The college launched its Farm Ready Student programme at the show, which aims to enlist local farms to offer work experience opportunities to its students.

She said improved progression routes into higher education, a coordinated approach to careers and high-skilled trainers would be key in stopping the brain drain.

Luke Womack studied an agricultural apprenticeship with Easton and Otley College and now utilises his engineering skills at a firm building race car simulators, but said he could easily be tempted back into the agriculture industry.

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"I think with driverless vehicle technology my work could be more relevant to the agriculture sector in the future," he said.

Nathan Raines, associate director at Poultec Training in Mattishall, said agri-food education and training needed to be shaped around industry needs. He used the example of the poultry passport and poultry apprenticeship developed by Poultec.

He said: "In all of agriculture there is massive opportunity for young people and the industry is crying out for them to come and be trained."

A question from audience member Mike Brown on the environmental damage caused by pesticides prompted a discussion of sustainability in farming practice as well as training - which the panel agreed must be a priority in coming years.

Emma Taylor, funding manager at New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, said sustainability was a common thread across the priority sectors in the Norfolk and Suffolk industrial strategy - ICT, clean energy and agri-food.

"We are working with the county councils and partners in the environment sector to start to develop an environmental plan for the region," she said.

Ms Townsend said Easton and Otley College was encouraging collaboration between its agriculture and environmental students through its on-site farm and water meadows.

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