Education must be top priority

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All young farmers should make continuing education and training a focal point of their career development within agriculture, according to Young Farmers’ Clubs of Ulster (YFCU) President James Speers.

“Today’s farmer needs to be as good a businessman and marketer, as he is a stockman or crops’ specialist,” he added.

“And the attainment of these skills requires a dedication to getting the qualifications that will be required to meet this need. Those who think differently on this matter are burying their heads in the sand.

“Farmers now need to be efficient in everything that they do. At a production level, there is a tremendous onus on all producers to improve their grassland, crops and animal management knowledge base.”

“And, again, sitting still is not an option.

“Continuous training and education will be needed to ensure that the improved skills required to make all of this happen are secured.”

Speers noted the tremendous uptake in enrolment for courses leading to the attainment of a Level II qualification in Agriculture over recent years, adding: “This is an eligibility requirement for those applying for the Young Farmers’ Payment and Regional Reserve. Both these measures have been included within the terms of the current Basic Payment Scheme.

“All of this is extremely positive. But the attainment of the Level II qualification should not be seen as the be-all and end-all when it comes to young farmers establishing their training priorities for the future.”

Speers drew particular attention to the Farm Family Key Skills (FFKS) programme. This is part of the farm Business Improvement Scheme which is funded under the Rural Development Programme 2014 – 2020. Its aim is to increase the levels of knowledge and skills in agricultural and commercial horticulture businesses with a desire to help Northern Ireland farmers with their business decision making in the key areas of Business Planning, Animal Health, Health and Safety and ICT.

He continued: “I also welcome the fact that large numbers of young farmers are taking part in Business Development Groups with the option of securing a Level III qualification.

“Improved educational attainment works for farming as a whole. Individual producers will improve their levels of business efficiency and profitability. This will then feed through in terms of enhanced productivity, across the industry, thereby creating greater opportunities to provide more employment, where food processors are concerned.”

The YFCU President then highlighted the wide range of further education courses available at the three CAFRE campuses.

“These cater for the bespoke needs of every sector and every farming circumstance,” he said.

“Specifically, they provide young farmers with a unique opportunity to follow their chosen career path, right up to University degree level. Moreover, all of this can be achieved in ways that do not interfere with the normal running of a farm business.

“As an organisation, the YFCU is also totally committed to encouraging members to actively participate in the widest possible range of further education and training courses. We are an AQA certified learning provider. We have a similar relationship with LANTRA, which is about to be enhanced courtesy of a partnership arrangement with Ulster Wildlife. This will see YFCU delivering a new suite of Lantra accredited training courses.”

Speers acknowledged the re-focussing on young farmer education that has accompanied the introduction of the current EU farm support measures.

“I hope this will be built upon further by the UK government, once Brexit becomes a reality,” he added.

The YFCU President was speaking in the run-up to the publication of this year’s ‘A’ Level and GCSE results.

He concluded: “Traditionally, this is a time when young people sit down with their parents to discuss future plans. But in the case of those farming families, where the thinking might be for a son or daughter to come into the business, could I strongly suggest that very serious consideration is given to the young people involved actively participating in some form of further education or training course before coming home full-time.

“CAFRE staff will be more than willing to advise on what are the best career development opportunities to avail of. We live in a very fast changing world, one that will require successful farmers to be as adaptable and on top of their game as is the case in all other industries.”