Colleges should lead the charge on promoting farming

It may be summer holidays, but rarely a week goes by that I don’t hear something of the college farm – whether it’s the Lleyn Texel x store lambs brought into Malton market or the potted maize plant on display at the Great Yorkshire show.

The farm is the first in East Yorkshire to grow a maize crop under a starch-based plastic. They planted 75 acres of it in mid-April and, if the plant at the Great Yorkshire is anything to go by, the crop has thrived on having such a cushy start in life. It towered at least a third of its own height above a typical maize specimen.

On seeing it, you might in fact agree that “Life in plastic, Is fantastic” (lyrics from the 1990s song I’m a Barbie Girl.) Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

Bishop Burton has an exciting mixed-enterprise farm, with various projects and trials under way. Considering this, I was surprised to find that the maize and a few photos were all that the Bishop Burton show plot had to publicise its agricultural courses. The Equine course was attracting large numbers, with two simulator horses, large screens and plenty of people to talk to. But with no effort at publicising even the significance of the maize, the agricultural identity of the college was seriously downplayed.

Evertone says there are greater numbers of potential young farmers out there, so a big national showcase like the Great Yorkshire is a prime marketing opportunity. In reality, all that was needed was for our course manager and farm manager to stand there and talk. Two big personalities, they could convince anyone that studying agriculture at Bishop Burton was the choice for them.

lizzie student 2In my experience, farmers are brilliant at promoting their industry to new entrants. These farmers think beyond the limit of their own businesses, which take up enough time as it is. Armed with an unfaltering enthusiasm, the farmers who have helped me have shared their knowledge and given me a free rein when it has come to new experiences. Sink or swim, it’s better to have a go.

During the past month, I’ve started working on a farm with a suckler beef herd. It’s in its third year of establishment and has been exciting working in a relatively new enterprise. Being a self-confessed sheep person, I’ve been surprised how much I’ve enjoyed working with beef cattle for the first time. My boss’s inexhaustible attitude to work has meant there’s never a dull moment.

Last month he took me to meet Tom and Mike Powley of Green Hammerton, North Yorkshire. A father-and-son partnership, they run a renowned beef enterprise. Once again, I was struck by how easily they gave up an evening to give us a farm tour and talk agriculture.

I’ve had ups and downs at college in my first year, sometimes straining at the bit to get out and get a job. But now, with my second year starting only next month, I have to recognise that being at Bishop Burton has done me a lot of good. It makes me wonder again about that college promotion at the show.

Farming’s relationship with the public and young people is a topic of our times. Colleges need to lead the way. A maize plant, without explanation of the pride and excitement behind it, is about as useful as a pot of watercress. Unless, maybe, it was the size of Jack’s beanstalk and had gold leaves. Then wouldn’t everyone be farming?

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