A Berkshire college is working with local farmers to train and educate students to become the next generation of farmers.

The partnership follows a decision by Berkshire College of Agriculture (BCA) to reintroduce a practical agriculture course onto its curriculum after a 15-year break.

Although the college kept “agriculture” in its title, it stopped teaching its practical agricultural course following the devastating foot-and-mouth outbreak in 2001 and for economic reasons.

However, college leaders decided to reintroduce the course in September due to the growing interest in people wanting to study agriculture and learn more about where their food comes from.

Eighteen students aged between 16 and 28 have enrolled on the City and Guilds level 3 extended diploma in agriculture at BCA. Out of the 18 enrolled, 10 are female and eight are male.

Liz Hadden, BCA assistant principal, said: “This is the first cohort of agriculture students at the college for 15 years. We recognised there was a skills gap and a need for new entrants in agriculture, which is why we started the course again.

Berkshire College of Agriculture

“The main aim of the course is to teach students practical agricultural skills. We don’t have any cattle on site, but we’re working with local partners and local farms to take students to their farms to do work them.”

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For part of the course requirements, students learn about livestock production, machinery and crop production.

Each student is required to complete a minimum of six weeks’ work experience. In addition, they are expected to work on participating farms during the busy harvest period.

“It’s very much about investing in farm employees of the future,” said Mrs Hadden. “We help the students gain the skills required by industry and they return the favour by working on the farms.”

Berkshire farmer Colin Rayner, a director of J Rayner & Sons and a governor at BCA, has been supporting the college in its aims to inject new blood into the farming industry.

Earlier this month, Mr Rayner loaned three of his John Deere tractors to the college to teach students how to work a tractor.

“It’s very much about investing in farm employees of the future.”
Liz Hadden, BCA assistant principal

BCA is set in a stunning 162ha (400 acres) estate, in Burchetts Green, Maidenhead. This includes 22ha (54 acres) of arable land across three fields, which Mr Rayner has converted from grassland.

Mrs Hadden said: “Colin has been really helping us with the arable. He brought three tractors and three tractor drivers who taught students how to plough, power harrow and drill crops.”

Vicky Beckwith, BCA head of agriculture added: “When the students got out of the tractors, their faces were just beaming. They were all saying, ‘agriculture is the career for me’.”

Mr Rayner has a shared farming agreement for the 54 acres of the college’s arable land.

Meanwhile, Farley Farms and Estate, based in Farley Hill, on the outskirts of Wokingham and Reading in Berkshire, has agreed to host a practical dairy module from next year.

Farley Farm has 260 head of cows producing 2.3m litres/year on twice daily milking under a Dairy Crest and Marks & Spencer liquid milk contract.

Mrs Hadden said: “The finer details of how we will partner have not yet been agreed as the dairy module will run in the second year.

“But it is likely we will put a member of BCA staff into the dairy on the farm to work with their herdsmen.”

BCA is holding an open day from 12pm to 4pm on Tuesday 4 November for anyone interested in teaching students or offering work placements. For further information, contact Megan Hassett on 01628 827 560 or email mjhassett@bca.ac.uk.

For more information on BCA courses, including farming, animal management and countryside studies, visit the website www.bca.ac.uk