Farming has a bright future and Warwickshire College at Moreton Morrell believes it has some valuable contributions to make, ranging from fresh thinking on food processing and retailing to farm-supplied power and construction materials and simply squeezing more from existing technologies.
“It’s been a horrible four years, goodness knows,” says farm manager Richard Price, previously featured in Farmers Weekly in 1997 after a nine-moth 8000ha contract harvesting marathon around the USA and again in 2002 when he first arrived at Moreton Morrell.
“But with farmer numbers falling and overall production declining, I actually feel very positive about the future,” says the manager of the college’s 329ha mixed farm. The unit lies at the heart of what used to be the Warwickshire College of Agriculture, but which is now the farming hub of Warwickshire Colleges Group, a £45m-turnover operation, with 1750 staff and 35,000 students across five campuses.
And it is that captive student audience that is providing a fantastic opportunity for the farm to direct market farm produce.
Already most of the farm’s beef, lamb and pork is sold direct, either through Warwickshire College Group’s staff and student canteens, which use a £180,000 on-site freeze/chill unit to provide 2500 meals a day, or direct sales to the public or the Michelin-starred conference and wedding facility at Moreton Hall.
A small pig enterprise has been created to supply that market and a similar poultry unit is planned. In future a farm-made ice cream venture is planned, part of a major effort to maximise farm income by cutting out middle men and processing and retailing farm produce to the public direct.
“Budgeting for notoriously volatile primary produce markets is a nightmare,” reflects Mr Price. “This removes a lot of that uncertainty.” Farm-made ice-cream retailing at £2.40/litre is clearly preferable to milk wholesaling at 18p/litre.
The next step will be to open a farm outlet on the main farm site, retailing meat and dairy products and providing a farming experience for the public through viewing galleries and meeting rooms. A poultry unit to supply meat and eggs is also planned.
But the farm isn’t just there to feed the college group’s burgeoning student population. The goal is to support the industry through a wide range of training, teaching and demonstration activities.
“The focus at Moreton Morrell is land-based industries and particularly meeting the needs of farming families wanting to gain the skills they need for the future,” explains principal Ioan Morgan, who received a CBE in the New Year Honours. “We’re also in merger talks with Pershore College, which would be an ideal fit given their complementary farming enterprises.”
Investment Farm: 329ha mainly livestock farm Soil: Heavy clay through loanms to some peat Rainfall: 620mm Enterprises: 210 pedigree Holstein Fresian dairy cow,580 ewe Suffolk cross/N orth Country Mule lambing flock,plus 80 Suffolk Cross ewe lambs, 20 pedigree Simmental sucklers plus dairy/beef unit,small pig unit; maize and grass silage, barley for milling; direct marketing enterprise Typical outputs: 8250 litres a cow milk, 29t/ha grass silage Key Features: Straw-dust cow bedding; farm shop venture; ELS
Farm: 329ha mainly livestock farm
Soil: Heavy clay through loanms to some peat
Enterprises: 210 pedigree Holstein Fresian dairy cow,580 ewe Suffolk cross/N orth Country Mule lambing flock,plus 80 Suffolk Cross ewe lambs, 20 pedigree Simmental sucklers plus dairy/beef unit,small pig unit; maize and grass silage, barley for milling; direct marketing enterprise
Typical outputs: 8250 litres a cow milk, 29t/ha grass silage
Key Features: Straw-dust cow bedding; farm shop venture; ELS
Rather than dilute the farming focus, the college group has reinforced it, allowing investments that never could have been imagined before. “At Moreton Morrell we have combined land-based, construction and engineering to create one large faculty, which doubled the facilities on offer to the land-based sector.”
A particular benefit has been the wider IT resource on hand, allowing the college to run the EU and DEFRA-funded Pie-Redi project to boost computerisation in rural communities. “On-location training has armed rural and farming businesses with computer skills.”
Plans are already afoot to evaluate farm-fuels for a new Alternative Power Sources Academy that will be part of the college group’s new £35m Rugby campus. Meanwhile, a new Alternative Buildings Centre at the Leamington Spa campus is already demonstrating the use of farm-produced building materials.
At the heart of the college farm is the Nethermorton pedigree Holstein Friesian dairy enterprise, rejuvenated with £250,000 of investment in a rapid exit Fullwood parlour, new housing and forage storage facilities over recent years. Reduced mastitis, better fertility and lower labour costs from simpler handling have all resulted.
The farm really comes into its own as a fully commercial backdrop to student and industry training. “It has to be a profit centre, so everything we do is fully relevant to local farmers,” says Mr Price.
There are practical messages aplenty, he enthuses. Dairy bedding costs, for example, are down from £2.20 a cow per week to 30p a cow per week. This is due to the purchase of second hand mats lined with straw dust from Heaths contractors. “If anything the cows like it too much and we struggle to keep them moving.”
Clamped grass with supplementary out-of-parlour feeding targeted at herd groups is preferred to grazing, allowing tighter management of feed intake, leading to a 62% milk from forage rating. “Against a 24% national average we feel we’re doing rather well,” says Mr Price. Average output is 8250 litres at 4.01% fat.
Hydraulic muck scraping and low-volume irrigation have eased pollution management and cut fertiliser bills, irrigated grassland now requiring just 40kg/ha of bagged N.
A joint venture with machinery maker Agco sees industry apprentices trained in a purpose-designed machinery training centre, while arable teaching and training is made possible by arrangements with neighbouring farms.
This all adds up to a rich mix of thought leadership and practical farming demonstration, which has helped to double industry training and driven student numbers to new highs. This year’s 26 first-year NDA students is a welcome jump from just eight 10 years ago, for example.
Moreton Morrell’s food chain focus, with an eye to practical farming issues and new opportunities in the energy and construction sectors, makes it a key asset for the rural and farming communities.
Status:Part of £45m turnover Warwickshire Colleges Group
Focus: Core farming, meat processing and retailing, equine, construction, engineering
Students: 4500 full-time, 30,000 part-time (Warwickshire College total), 1250 full-time, 5000 part-time (Moreton Morrell)
Links: Agco; Lloyds Animal Feeds; Zintec, REAL AG; Lemkin; EBLEX; NFU;FWAG; Warwick University; Bristol University; Bristol Vet College
Focal Points: IT Training, mechanisation, equine
Phone: 01926 318 286