With farming requiring one of the most diverse skill sets of any job sector, have you considered further education?

Farmers are expected to know and understand every element of farm business, from livestock management to soil science to cash flow – but few of us know it all, and further training could be the answer. 

With the exam season upon us and families around the country feeling the strain of teenage stress, I was wondering how many of us ‘oldies’ in the agricultural industry would readily take up more education if offered? So asks Openfield’s head of compliance, shipping & research, Cecilia Pryce.

I am aware that there are many new ‘online’ courses that need to be worked through by operators of all sorts – not limited to how to use a pig board. But honestly, what educational courses do you feel you are missing?

Education is a buzz word that gets much airtime, but where are the real blanks and where are the easy fixes? The subject of agriculture covers such a broad spectrum, which is then frustrated  further by the variation in the base level of education within the industry and the number of individuals in any one farming unit. How many industries can you think of where so much is expected from one or two individuals? Farmers cover subject matters from livestock management, chemicals, agronomy, contract awareness, cash flow, mechanics, soil science, form filling etc., and that’s before you add parenting and daily survival. In fact, could I be as bold as to say farming has one of the most diverse combinations of skill sets of any job sector?

With this in mind, when the cry goes out for better or more education, where do we start? Are we advocating the education of the general public about the importance of farmers and farming, or are we aiming to improve the education of those working within the sector?

The general public may be the easier ticket, but only if the audience has the desire to listen. The historical stigma of the farming community is very mixed; but with the current price rises, we may be just about to be given the platform we have long awaited – but it will take some managing. Where do you start? What do you teach them? Who is the focus group? Do we have a rally to arms from everyone involved in the sector? Reality is, you will only ever make an impact on those that are interested – but what generates that initial interest? While food is readily available, it is probably the power of the media we need to turn to, but what is the story we sell?

Similarly, how many of you reading this have ever gone looking for a course that may help you? How many of you have turned down an invitation to attend a presentation or looked at an invitation and thought of other ways you could spend your day, rather than thought “I could learn something from that”. I do feel the desire to learn has to come from within and a fear that you don’t want to  be left behind.  To not understand something is normal – we all learn, and we all have to take instruction from someone. Who taught you to walk, talk, drive, reverse a trailer? Who taught you to use your latest phone? For that last one, I’d hedge my bets that it’s the person you yourself taught to walk and talk, and still have the pleasure of teaching to drive and to reverse the trailer… UK agriculture needs as much education at every level it can get; but we have to ask for it and be hungry for it, and that starts with acknowledging our own shortcomings.

Fertiliser matters
Early May brought a reduction in UK nitrogen prices as the new season reset was launched, although restricted tonnages were offered into the market, says Openfield’s fertiliser manager Lucy Hassall. Despite an expectation that there would be some reluctancy to buy all requirements, we saw a big uptake in purchases and the market ran extremely well, selling out of allocated tonnes
within hours. There were very little offers on imported grades, with UK nitrogen being so competitively priced and supply remaining tight.  One of the main concerns leading up to the new season reset was the availability of sulphur grades, with CF currently not producing NS grades and very few imported options currently available.

Many growers have switched programmes to include the use of polysulphate; mined in the UK, this grade is an excellent source of sulphur and also contains potassium, magnesium, calcium
and trace elements such as boron. Polysulphate has a prolonged nutrient release of up to 50 days which results in the crop taking up the nutrients more efficiently over a longer period of time with less leaching.