Empowering and upskilling the farmers of the future

Knowledge Transfer event 24 February 2022

Our purpose-built Centre for Agri-Food Technology was the place to be yesterday for the second in our series of inspirational knowledge transfer events.

Students and employers gathered to explore the opportunities available to them at Riseholme to expand their knowledge and understanding of precision agriculture, through a series of exciting demonstrations with industry professionals.  

After a warm welcome from Vice Principal Danny Metters, Principal Bill Meredith kick-started the day by providing an overview of our precision agriculture journey and how as a college we are dedicated to becoming carbon neutral. He went on to outline how higher-level skills can help at any stage of your career - whether a current student, agricultural worker or employer. With agriculture embracing technology and moving at a swift pace, college’s such as Riseholme need to be a part of nurturing and cultivating the farmers of the future by providing the resources, courses and qualifications to meet an ever-increasing skills gap. This sentiment nicely summed up the theme of the day which was about upskilling the existing agricultural workforce and enabling and equipping the next generation with the knowledge and understand of the changing nature of the agriculture industry.  

I then outlined how as part of the Institute for Technology, this skills gap and the increased prevalence of technology has influenced the curriculum. With a range of new and bespoke higher-level qualifications and free short courses there is provision across all career phases to introduce, upskill and support. Through a series of three break out demonstrations we showcased for participants how this works in practice.  

A session with Precision Agriculture Lecturer Steven Dempster and fellow Agricultural Lecturer Jess Milner illustrated how robotics are influencing agriculture and how students are prepared for the necessity to familiarise themselves with coding and the process of using robotics to assist and complete a task. Miniature and small-scale Matrix robots are used in the classroom to contextualise their use on full scale equipment – such as robotic arms mimicking the arms on machinery such as the Robo Veg (an automated broccoli harvester). Participants were able to witness Steven programming the robots and then see the direct action as a result.  

Jess then outlined our free short course provision that delivers an understanding of robotics and their value to the industry, the data analysis they can deliver and how this can be applied plus the use of GPS software.  A further element that is explored within the short courses are the commercial aspects in terms of technologies helping to improve efficiencies and incorporating them into business structures.  

Participants could then see robotics in action with a demonstration of the first mass-produced agricultural robotic the XAG R150 Unmanned Ground Vehicle. This enabled them to see the connection between practicing with the Matrix robotics in the classroom and moving to full-scale equipment in the fields. Andy Mansfield of Manterra and Rob Pearson on AutoSpray Systems took the XAG R150 through its paces, demonstrating how the vehicle enabled a wide range of activity across the farm from precision crop protection, field-scouting to on-farm material delivery. Powered by app the vehicle can move autonomously with three different modes – drive with the equivalent of a remote, ‘follow me’ and shuttle.  

Finally, James Richardson the Bishop Burton Farm Manager and Agricultural Lecturer, Stephen Booth contextualised for participants exactly how the application of technologies is impacting a living and working farm - improving the efficiency and sustainability of the farms at Riseholme and Bishop Burton. Utilising the variable rate technologies, the farms are being mapped using a contour system to determine the most effective use of the land and applying cost-saving variable fertilisation, seeding and application of slug pellets.  

The farm also utilises NVDI (Normalized Difference Vegetation Index) to ensure the college is on top of the health of the land by analysing the biomass in the fields to identify areas of historic damage. This is possible due to infra-red mapping images that are provided by a satellite that moves over the farm every 3-4 days. James and the team at the farm are therefore able to predict the amount of growth with precision tech. All of this helps the support the college’s objectives to become more sustainable and protect the health of the soil and land to improve crop yields, whilst protecting the environment.  

To round up the day Bill re-iterated the college’s commitment to supporting the industry through the empowerment and up-skilling of the current and next generation of farmers and agricultural workers. Excitingly, with initiatives such as the Institute of Technology real focus and energy is being placed on the importance of higher-level skills and there is enthusiasm from an employer perspective. Rob Pearson of Auto Spray Systems reinforced this point stressing that there was a real appetite from manufacturers to be involved in the development of higher-level skills and education.   

The day was the perfect opportunity to celebrate how proud we are to be a part of this journey and a presentation of Institute of Technology gilets were made to a group of students by Bill.  

See more on our precision agriculture free short courses and higher education HERE.

Sharon Kirby, Head of Academic Learning – Land Based