The nation’s farmers are quietly proud of the network of agricultural colleges that unobtrusively get on with beating the next generation of horny-handed sons-(and daughters)-of-the-soil into shape.
Some of the colleges occasionally get all pompous and demand to be called universities instead, but we still love them anyway, yah.
Here in central Hampshire we’ve got a gem: Sparsholt College. Not only has it got a long and distinguished record as an agricultural educator, covering an astonishing range of topics, it also has very strong family connection.
See also: Read more from Charlie Flindt
My parents were heavily involved in its development and enlargement in the second half of the last century – my mother was a governor for so long that they named one of the new residential houses after her.
And Hazel’s first job on arrival in Hampshire in 1985 was “livestock technician” at Sparsholt; her talent saw her promoted from the mess of dead animals to “IT technician” as the first on-farm computers arrived.
Luckily, I persuaded her that shovelling shit back on our own farm was a far better option than a high-flying, well-paid, poo-free IT career.
The odd couple
So those of us who feel fondly about “our” college and who also keep an amateur eye on the murky smoke-and-mirror world of “alternative energies” found ourselves raising half an eyebrow at the news a few years ago that Sparsholt was teaming up with a company called Ecotricity.
Ecotricity is a legend in the world of green energy, having erected its first windmill in the mid-1990s. (We must call them windmills, apparently; not “wind turbines” and definitely not “bat-chomping, bird-slicing eco-crucifixes” as my eco-hero, James Delingpole likes to call them.)
The head man at Ecotricity, Dale Vince, has done fantastically well out of these windmills, moving from “New Age Traveller” to fabulously wealthy industrialist, with the great and the good beating a path to his door. Some say wind power is the future.
Others, like those of us who happened to drive past some windmills on another hot, windless day while the nation’s fridges and air-conditioners were on overtime, to be greeted with the sight of stationary wind turbines, are less convinced. But that’s by the by.
Among the great and the good was Sparsholt College, which teamed up with Ecotricity to investigate and develop AD plants. These, too, are cited by some as the energy of the future – green gas.
Others, like those of us hearing landlord’s agents quoting (during rent reviews) the sums paid by AD plant operators, or livestock farmers watching in despair as AD plants bid for straw, or the locals worried about the increase in traffic as raw materials are hauled to the new plant, are yet to be convinced. But that, too, is by the by.
It was when I read about Ecotricity’s new campaign for “vegan” electricity, complete with lurid pictures of blood-red mince oozing from a wall socket, and – as with all vegan publicity – a strident and shrieking anti-meat industry tone, that it struck me as being odd that Sparsholt College, one of the finest agricultural colleges in the country, seemed to be perfectly happy to share its time and campus with a company apparently vehemently opposed to livestock production – which, after all, is an agricultural college’s bread and butter.
Browse the extensive and comprehensive list of courses on the college’s website; it’s a vegan’s worst nightmare. How long before Mr Vince starts leaning on the college management, I wonder.
I confess it makes me sad. It would break my livestock-loving parents’ hearts, but luckily, they’re no longer around to see what’s going on at their beloved Sparsholt College.