A hugely significant day for British farming and agricultural education took place with the official opening on Friday of Newton Rigg College’s £2.4m state-of-the-art dairy unit.
Lord Donald Curry of Kirkharle performed the opening ceremony at the Cumbrian college’s farm, followed by the blessing of the dairy herd by the Bishop of Carlisle, the Right Rev James Newcome.
The initiative has drawn national praise and support, including from the Farming Minister George Eustice, who said: “Young farmers are the lifeblood of the industry and the rural economy, which is why we’re supporting them through investing in educational facilities across the country.
“Our Rural Development Programme has created or safeguarded more than 2,000 jobs in the North West, which will help ensure long-term economic growth in the region’s farming, food and tourism sectors.”
Around 400 guests attended the opening, including representatives from the North’s farming and rural community as well as national figures, business representatives, college governors, staff and students.
In August 2011, York-based Askham Bryan College took over the running of Newton Rigg with the promise to put agriculture back at its heart. The dairy unit is part of a multi-million-pound investment programme to do just that.
Students from both campuses and the college’s other centres across the North of England will use the new facility as an integral part of their degree, diploma and apprenticeship studies.
Liz Philip, chief executive, said: “Young people study with us from across the North of England and agriculture is very much the tap root of the education we provide.
“Our focus is on providing work ready young people and having one of the most technically advanced dairy systems in the country will enhance their learning and career opportunities.
“The number of students studying agriculture with us has doubled in the last three years which speaks volumes for the high regard in which we are held. In 2011 there were 305 students and apprentices, today the number is 630.”
Opening the unit, Lord Curry said: “The importance of this for the farming community across the country cannot be underestimated.
“The new dairy provides a first-class facility for students, and for Britain’s farmers generally. It also provides a real vote of confidence in the industry and is all the more poignant as it marks the return of the college’s herd since it was lost to foot-and-mouth disease in 2001.”
Blessing the dairy herd was a first for Bishop James, who said: “The opening of this dairy heralds a significant investment in the future of farming in our county. The agricultural industry is one of the life-bloods of Cumbria’s economy and has been through some difficult times in recent years.
“So it’s wonderful to have the opportunity to bless this herd in the Lord’s name. It also helps re-focus our minds on our roles in the husbandry of the God-given land and livestock which we are lucky to have in such abundance here in Cumbria.”
Some 70 different groups from across the UK have already asked to look round the dairy unit, ranging from Young Farmers’ Club members to industry and agricultural discussion groups.
Newton Rigg College has announced an extensive range of residential scholarships.
Up to 25 awards are available and are open for application to young people from across the North of England for the academic year 2014/15.
College principal Wes Johnson said: “These merit-based awards are aimed at helping young people attend our courses, whether they live within five miles, 50 miles or 500 miles away from our campus.
“They are available at three levels, ranging from a Gold Award valued at £6,400, Silver (up to £5,400) and Bronze up to £4000. All the scholarships cover the cost of residential accommodation, enabling students to not only to achieve their academic aspirations, but enjoy the social side of campus life too.”
Newton Rigg is also introducing a weekly boarding arrangement whereby buses from the Durham and Newcastle areas will provide free transport to the college on a Monday morning, and back again on Friday evening. This will be available from September and follows the outstanding classification by Ofsted for the college’s student care standards.
Mr Johnson added: “Young people are finding it harder and harder to fund their education and yet the future of the farming industry depends on well-qualified, work-ready individuals.
“Hopefully these scholarships will help address that, and I would urge all those interested in a career in the farming, horticulture, game-keeping and forestry sectors to apply.”
Apply via the college website at www.newtonrigg.ac.uk