Lets use the Royal Norfolk Show to think about how we educate the next generation of farmers

PUBLISHED: 09:40 26 June 2019 | UPDATED: 09:40 26 June 2019

Greg Smith, chief executive of the Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association

Greg Smith, chief executive of the Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association


Greg Smith, chief executive of the Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association, has a plea for us not to let land-based education decline

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As we open the 157th Royal Norfolk Show - our county's major celebration of food, farming, the countryside and much else besides - it is important to reflect on the fact that we are on the brink of witnessing a major retreat from land-based education in this region, following the news about the future of Easton and Otley College.

While there have been challenges within the organisation, and change is needed, the risk of losing a specialist provider of further education for the sector is now high. Of specific concern is that the proposals recommended by the government's consultant, as reported recently (EDP, June 13), appear to have ignored the views of a wider group of well-informed and experienced local stakeholders. It seems the old-adage of 'listen to the operators' has been forgotten in this case. The prospects for the agricultural industry will depend on a strong and well prepared skills base, mainly drawn from the talented young people we have here in this region. But to prepare them for this exciting future needs a joined-up and innovative approach, combining the resources of our excellent education providers - from early school age through to continuous professional development - with the region's agricultural industry.

As a region, we have a track record of partnership working to build a global reputation for innovation and excellence in sectors such as energy. In our schools, college, university, world-class research bodies, local government and vibrant agri-food-tech industry we have all the components to do the same to ensure a strong future for the sector. However, it seems the missing ingredient is the leadership and determination to make this formula succeed. I am a big supporter of City College Norwich, who offer first class education across a wide range of subjects, but themselves acknowledge they have limited experience in the complexities and needs of the agricultural sector. It is therefore hard to see how the option of a simple FE-FE merger, however well intentioned, can deliver the ambitious vision at the scale required. 
Equally, the prospect of Norfolk and Suffolk with a much diluted land-based education offer would be a real loss to the region. Over many generations this region has been renowned for agricultural innovation. I urge our industry to use the unique opportunity of the Royal Norfolk Show to come together, show their support and seek a rethink - before it is too late.

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