Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Supplementary memorandum submitted by The Institute of Agricultural Management (A 17(a))

  We fully agree with the response made by the Royal Agricultural College, but hope the following comments may also prove useful.

What training is available for farmers on the food chain and agriculture's role in it? What is the uptake among farmers?

  There are a number of private and public institutions which offer training in this area—although it is more likely to be one-off seminars and workshops rather than courses. The Institute, for example, has some 20 branches. These all have programmes of meetings, at some of which will be speakers on food chain issues. Some agricultural consultancy firms hold training days, as do universities and colleges.

  Uptake is not always good. With so little labour on farms these days, farmers find it difficult to spare the time. We also find that the lower the morale of the industry, the less willing are farmers to go to discussion meetings.

  My view is there is still a great deal of suspicion and mistrust on the part of farmers towards those lower down the food chain.

What proportion of their time do agriculture students currently spend on business and the natural environment or conservation, as opposed to production-based, subjects?

  The proportion of time spent on Business/Environmental Studies has increased.

  At the University of Reading, where I am based, the proportion is about 30 per cent for students taking Agriculture degrees. Students wishing to specialise in farm business management may do so in their final year, in which case the proportion would rise to 50 per cent. There is also a degree here in Agricultural Business Management, where the proportion would be 80 per cent. Similar situations would be found in other Higher Education establishments.

  It is fair to say that Agricultural Faculties of Universities and Agricultural Colleges experience great difficulty in recruiting good students. The adverse publicity which has surrounded the industry in recent years, and pessimism about the future, has greatly diminished the number of applicants.

What involvement does the agriculture industry have in course design and content? What skills does the agriculture industry see as desirable in graduates at present?

  This is an important question. Universities are being driven more and more to concentrate on research excellence, and the more esoteric it is, the higher tends to be the regard in which it is held. This has rather reduced the contact between academics and farmers.

  As Professor Alliston has indicated, most educational establishments would seek to have some industry advice when curriculum is being developed and reviewed, although the extent of this will vary with the Institution.

  One role that we believe we can increasingly play in this Institute is to act as a forum in which academics, consultants, farmers and farm managers can meet to discuss the training needs of the industry. There is no doubt a perception that business and marketing skills need to be enhanced in the farmers of the future.

The Institute of Agricultural Management

28 February 2002

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