Agriculture has become an increasingly technical industry: Farmers need to be both business-minded and have extensive knowledge and scientific understanding – meaning many are seeking additional training. But how is innovation driving changes to training?
According to Paul Ward, projects manager at Duchy College’s Rural Business School, keeping up with the latest cutting-edge technology is crucial for UK farmers to cut costs and remain competitive.
“As an industry, we need to make sure the training fits with the changing environment.”
The introduction of precision farming has driven some of the biggest changes, he explains.
“We now include training not just on data collection, but how to use it. People need to be able to analyse both production and finances to benchmark and assess their efficiency – the use of data takes the guesswork out of it.”
While the exact form of training will depend on individual requirements, there has been increased demand for Level 3 and 4 vocational courses – as well as A-levels and Higher National Diplomas, says Mr Ward.
“To keep at the forefront of change, training offers interaction with forward-looking businesses which are utilising innovation, so students have chance to learn how to use the latest technology.
It’s important to give them the opportunity to understand how new machines work to put them in the best position to use the technology in future.”
Agriculture is experiencing a resurgence of interest from the younger generation – with agriculture now one of the fastest-growing subjects at UK universities.
This is largely due to the increased career opportunities as more technical and scientific knowledge is needed.
“It is crucial prospective farmers and those in associated industries know how to make the most of technology and are aware why it is important.” It is not just farmers needing to keep up with a progressive industry – the same is true for industry professionals like agronomists.
Stephen Jacobs, chief executive at BASIS, says: “While there has always been a high level of training, agronomy has changed hugely. Agriculture is in the midst of a technological revolution. We are seeing restrictions on products, increased stewardship pressures and the use of technology such as drones and unmanned aerial vehicles. Training needs to reflect that.”
With arable technology changing every day, the National Register of Sprayer Operators (NRoSO) has been forward-thinking in the training and certification it offers – specifically designing qualifications to be adaptable as new innovation comes through.
Paul Aldridge, technical verifier and assessor at NRoSO explains: “Technology is always evolving, so all qualifications are written to be future-proof.
As well as this, we regularly update training given to assessors so they are up-to-date with the latest technology.”
Continued professional development is a big part of NRoSO training, with developments in technology driving demand for up-to-date knowledge, says Robin Jackson, land-based industry manager at City and Guilds.
“We hold an annual update event, which covers the latest hot topics and innovation – from nozzle technology to sprayer controls. While members can gain their 30 points for three years just from this event, it has almost become competitive – with one member already on 100 points.”
As the internet becomes more used within the sector, the way in which training is delivered is also evolving, adds Mr Jackson.
“There is an increasing amount of interest to deliver CPD modules online. While you need to strike the right balance between face-to-face and online training, it will be useful to have complimentary information online in the future.” So what changes can we expect to see over the next 10 years?
While it is unclear how the industry will change, what can be guaranteed is that profitability will be even more important and hi-tech kit will aid this, says Mr Jacobs.
“Farming today is so much more than just food production. It’s a great industry to be part of and the new technology coming through is making it even more exciting.”