Forty years after the John Edgar Trust was founded, Paul Spackman finds out how it has readied potential young leaders for a career in the farming industry.

More than 250 people have benefitted from the management training provided by the John Edgar Trust since its foundation in 1970. The Trust, which was set up in honour of a forward-thinking Hampshire farmer, aims to enhance leadership and management skills within agriculture and the land-based industries.

It does so by providing a free Management Development course, which runs in alternate years for a selected group of 12 scholars. Students each get to hone their skills in a number of business management areas, including people management, business practice, handling the media, leadership, personal and organisational skills, taxation and law.

In addition they also learn a lot about their own personality and ability to manage farms and rural businesses, says James Jones, who is head of farm management at the Royal Agricultural College and runs the content of the course with dean of agriculture, John Alliston.

“Everyone who has done the course has come away feeling that they’ve had a very special experience. There are many benefits to it and very few places that offer a similar experience for young people, especially as the number of institutions offering farm business management courses has diminished.

“A particular strength comes from working and sharing ideas with peers in a group of motivated young people who all have a common interest. There’s a really strong Alumni who stay in regular contact and as time goes on, this group is growing in size.”

Scholars also gain an appreciation of the wider agriculture/food industry and how it operates at farm level, he says.

Diversification forms an important part of the course, reflecting the legacy of John Edgar, whose drive and vision meant he was always keen to look beyond the farm gate. A Dragons’ Den-style appraisal is now used to evaluate how small groups of scholars solve particular scenarios on case study farms.

The future

Dr Jones believes the John Edgar Trust is well placed for the future, despite the big changes that are happening in the farming industry. “We have sessions covering current policy issues and the farm case studies change to reflect the main issues of the time, so we don’t have to alter the fundamental structure of the course.

“We could potentially give more time to the technical side of things like renewable energy, but at the end of the day, the course is about farm management and that’s where the focus should remain.”

A large part of the course’s success relies on the continuing goodwill of those who have taken part, or support its aims. Places are free for scholars, so most funding comes from the investment fund that has been built up over the years. This is supplemented by covenants from past scholars and donations from charitable bodies.

Geoff Butler from Bossington Farms in Hampshire was one of the first people to benefit from the JET in 1971. At the age of 29, the Trust sponsored him to undertake the Worshipful Company of Farmers management training course at Wye College; in the days before JET offered its own specific course.

“Until that point, my education – the old National Diploma Agriculture (NDA) – had mainly focused on all of the husbandry aspects of farming, but didn’t really go into much business management detail. I had a periphery knowledge of business management, but nothing like the degree to which people study it today.

“I got such a lot out of the course, in terms of learning about running a business and managing staff. I’ve got a lot to thank it for.”

Mr Butler went on to complete a Nuffield Scholarship and a Kellogg’s scholarship, together with running the 2200-acre estate, which currently includes 600 outdoor sows, a large area of cereals and oilseed rape, plus a commercial shoot and fishing enterprise.

“I was probably one of the few scholars who actually knew John Edgar. He was a really pleasant chap and very forward thinking, especially in terms of getting closer to the market and adding value to products.”

About the John Edgar Trust

John Edgar came from a Hampshire farming family near the New Forest. His father died while John was still at school, but his mother carried on farming, developing a milk retailing business around New Milton and Lymington.

He was the youngest chairman of his local NFU and later represented the county for the NFU in London. He had an extensive involvement in agricultural development, serving with the Hampshire Cattle Breeders Society, the Agricultural Improvement Council and SCATS.

The JET was set up soon after his sudden death in 1970 to remember his vision and belief that to secure its profitable future, British agriculture had to nurture and develop its young leadership talent.

The Management Development course aims to develop an individual’s skills and abilities to enable him or her to become a more effective asset at work, and through that to the rural sector as a whole. It is free of charge and targeted mainly at people in central and southern England.

The 2010/2011 training is residential and involves:

• A five-day tutored course at the RAC, Cirencester from 15 to 19 November 2010

• A four-day project-based case study module based at the Grosvenor Hotel, Stockbridge, from 10 to 13 January 2011

• A second four-day project-based case study module based at the Grosvenor Hotel, Stockbridge from 15 to 18 March 2011

Applications are invited by 28 May 2010. Applicants should be established in a career in, or associated with, agriculture or the land-based industries, and if not already in a management position, should show the potential to achieve this in the near future. Most, but not all of the successful applicants in the past have been in the age range between their mid-20s to late-30s.