Farming businesses should understand training needs better and put a value on that learning, said NFU vice-president Adam Quinney speaking at the launch of the AHDB’s skills strategy.

Mr Quinney gave his full support to the levy-body’s drive to promote lifelong learning and skills across the industry but said more collaboration and a tailored strategy by industry was needed to avoid “March madness” where farmers were bombarded with invites from companies “needing to spend their budget before year end”.

Central to the AHDB’s drive to lead and deliver a cross-industry skills strategy are “skills champions” that include three farmers and a food processor. By working with industry the levy board want skills and professional development to be central for farm business improvement, meeting future challenges and promoting the industry to entrants as well as engaging support from government.

The announcement is in response to a wide industry consultation and responds to recommendations emerging in the AgriTech strategy, Future of Farming Review and Farming Regulation Taskforce . “Our skills champions will play a key role in helping the industry come together to promote the importance of skills and professionalism, so that we can continue to attract bright new entrants who demand an exciting and fulfilling career,” said Richard Longthorp, chairman of the AgriSkills Forum management group.

Tony Wright, pig manager at Shedden Farms in North Yorkshire, is one of the “skills champions” and a recent graduate of the BPEX professional manager’s development scheme. He said the learning from that course in communication, appraisal and leadership skills has not only improved working relations but also farm productivity.

“I introduced annual staff appraisals just to provide a time to talk about everything one-to-one and to ask them what targets they’d like to work towards on the unit. It caused some worry when I first mentioned it but pig productivity has gone up and stayed up since,” he added.

“I’ve also changed the way I communicate with staff. I focus on listening and I’m now assertive, rather than aggressive,” said Mr Worth.

His time management and delegation has also changed. “I’m now working around 55 hours a week instead of 70 or more and have a better family life,” he explained.

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