Christopher Padfield - Post Formal Education - nurturing and growing talent?
I live on work on a 4th generation family farm on the Gloucestershire / Worcestershire border. It is a mixed farm consisting of a Beef fattening joint venture and growing combinable crops. We have been direct drilling all crops including maize for the last decade. The farm is entered into an HLS scheme which is central to our focus on creating wildlife habitat around the enterprise. We also run some stubble to stubble contracting.
After working abroad in Ghana, Guinea Bissau and France, I worked for a local agricultural college mainly assessing NVQ qualifications. I also achieved qualifications in Internal and External Verification and a PGCE (adult education). I then set up a small training company where we offer training services, mainly LANTRA and City and Guilds qualifications, aimed at the land-based skills sector.
When not working, I love riding motorbikes and drinking whisky. Not a great combination though a recent biking trip to Islay managed to get the best of both worlds.
I would like to thank all those supporting my Nuffield Scholarship, not least the Central Region Farmers Trust for their sponsorship, and my wife and parents for their support and backing.
The Bavarian regional government had a real vision to support the rural economy and keep communities alive. One method was by building schools/colleges to develop skills and a knowledge base, and develop entrepreneurial talent.
Friday 15th May
I thought it would be interesting to visit an agricultural college in Germany and I am grateful to my brother in law who arranged the meeting and translated for me. The college is about 2 hours East of Munich in the heart of traditional Bavaria. Julius Tischer, one of the lecturers at the college, welcomed us and explained a little about the region.
The Passau Region land use is around one third forestry and two thirds cropped land, with a 60:40 split arable to grassland. Maize is a very common crop taken right through to grain maize with yields averaging around 9-12 t dm and wheat yields ranging from 7-9 tonnes a hectare. Around 84% of farm holdings are 50 ha or below and often required the farmers to look for a second income.
Julius Tischer then went on to explain how those students not using the university route would learn about agriculture. Typically, after leaving school, the student would spend one year at an agricultural college, followed by two years working on a farm (4 days on the farm, 1 day at college). The farmer would have to follow a structured learning programme with the student, not just have access to cheap labour. The qualification would be deemed to be at a 'farm assistant' level. Those progressing would then return to their own farms for a year to learn more and gather data and then return to college for three semesters (winter, summer, winter) to achieve a higher qualification. Whilst all topics such as dairy, arable, pig, poultry and renewables were covered, students could specialize. In this region it was often on pig production. The qualification would be to the level of “Master Farmer”. Similarly, the “Master” qualification exists for other trades, e.g. plumbing, electrician, carpentry…
The College I was visiting would be attended after becoming a 'master' and is one of three in Bavaria. Typically the students would be around 23 years of age, attendance is entirely voluntary, and like all other agricultural training, free of charge. Typically there are around 40 students a year from Bavaria and across the border from Austria. Students would need to provide for board and lodgings only. The course lasts for 10 months and would result in a qualification 'agricultural economist'. The focus is very much on economics, cash flow etc and each student would do a case study of their choice e.g. Bio-gas (AD plants). The lecturers are all civil servants, but are very client orientated as if there is no demand for the courses, the college would be shut. The programme and timetable seemed very varied and flexible. I did not meet the students as they were on a visit to China. A number of the lecturers worked part time at the college and part time on their own farms.
It was interesting to learn that the Bavarian regional government had a real vision to support the rural economy and keep communities alive. One method was by building schools/colleges to develop skills and a knowledge base, and develop entrepreneurial and creative skills to try to keep people living in the region.
Once students have left college and are working on farms, they continue to have access to advice. Up to around a decade ago this was a completely free service where a farmer could phone up and request a consultant on a particular topic. Now farmers are encouraged to form interest groups that are independent of industry. For a fee of 50-100 Euros they would have access to 5-6 meetings a year, one to one advice would cost nearer 600 Euros. It was estimated that between 10-20% of farmers have joined these groups, the rest relying on advice from companies.
There didn't seem to be much mandatory training required other than pesticide application for which you had to attend a 4 hour course every 3 years. There did appear to be good access to grants (outside the CAP direct payments) - 20-30% for a grain shed for example and the regional government could pay higher grants to those who had accessed higher levels of education. Typically most farms relied on family labour, those slightly larger preferring casual labour below 450 Euros a month to avoid tax complications. Only the relatively large farms had full time employees.
I was impressed with the college facilities, the large amounts of trial plots for arable crops, well maintained equipment including a combine for the trial plots. The College produces a handbook including experimental results and data. This is an exemplary document and its level of detail was deeply impressive.
Julius had then arranged for us to visit two farms. The first was run by Herr Hosamer and consisted of 250ha of arable and 50 ha of woodland. Rotations would include 2 maize crops followed by barley then buckwheat. Grain maize was dried and stored for a number of local farmers. I was amazed to learn that land rents were higher than 1000 Euros/ ha and land sold from 70-100,000 Euros.
The farm hosted a Limagrain research centre which planted approximately 100,000 maize plots a year, all mapped, drilled and harvested with GPS precision and drones used to check the crop and count plant establishment %. Maize planting started in the first week of April and many varieties used were those relevant to the climate of the Ukraine and surround areas.
The second visit was to Christian Hober who ran a 250 sow herd, averaging 26 piglets sold per sow per year with finishing weights of 120kg. The farm was run in cooperation with his uncle's farm and was a total of 250 ha. The pig unit was a substantial stone building, with a forced air ventilation system using a heat exchanger to warm incoming air in winter and the opposite in summer. The finishing ration appeared to be based on about 70% wet maize grain .