Digital approach to rearing beef cattle at Askham Bryan College after £1.7m funding boost

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Major investment in dairy and beef technical training has been unveiled at Askham Bryan College.

Principal and CEO Dr Tim Whitaker announced the two projects at his first stakeholder event since taking on the role in October this year.

Almost £2million will be put into new technology for beef production at the college’s teaching and learning site, Westfield Farm.

The funding has come through an award from the Yorkshire and Humber Institute of Technology consortium. The consortium has been granted around £10million of capital funding to invest in industry-standard equipment providing higher-level technical training in Yorkshire.

The £1.7million granted to the college will be put towards new specialist beef production buildings with a dedicated teaching area specifially for courses on precision livestock farming.

Dr Whitaker said digital technology and animal welfare will be at the heart of the new facility, combining a fully digitised approach to rearing beef cattle.

Construction on the new buildings is due to start in late spring and with an improved IT infrastructure already in place, students will have the opportunity to learn from real-time data with the opportunity to take part in hands-on research.

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A project which is already underway, thanks to an investment of £430,590 from the Funding from the York, North Yorkshire and East Riding Local Enterprise Partnership, is in the college’s dairy section.

A new state-of-the-art DeLaval voluntary milking system has been installed with live data from the digital robotic milker gathered and analysed in a new teaching block.

This funding has also been invested in the farm’s IT infrastructure, bringing it digitally up to date with wi-fi installed throughout the site.

Dr Whitaker said the digital enhancements would be a real asset, allowing live real-time data capture on the farmed estate. This would not only give new opportunities for teaching the farmers of the future but the increased connectivity would also inform improved farm productivity and output.

Stewart McAlister, Product Solution Manager UK & IRE Automatic Milking & Automatic Feeding Systems said they were delighted and privileged to be able to showcase one of the latest innovations in automatic milking systems at the college.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity to be given chance to help shape and educate the future of the industry in such a practical way,” he said.

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“Using the latest technologies available and focusing on the four main customer challenges across the agricultural industry - food safety, animal welfare, work efficiency and farm profitability - we can positively influence them in an effective and sustainable way.”

The Principal also shared the college’s draft five-year strategic vision asking for feedback on its vision for the future.

Sustainability for both the college itself and in terms of the global challenges farming is facing were high on the agenda and Dr Whitaker said as one of the largest land-based colleges in the UK, it was important Askham Bryan took the lead in exercising and promoting sustainable practices.

“It’s our responsibility to ensure there’s shared knowledge with those in our community and with our students,” he said.

“Our new innovative developments on Westfield Farm are just a couple of examples of how we are using equipment that delivers more sustainable and efficient results.

"More than ever, we need to take accountable measures that will enable us to adapt to current and future-proofing practices that adhere to exceptional standards. With that in mind, we are grateful for the funding that makes these developments possible.”

Dr Whitaker said the college had been fortunate to work with many industry partners, their products and their services which focus on and support environmental regeneration.

“However, we want to do more,” he said, “and so it’s vital that we reach out to businesses and new partners.”

Both the new projects contribute to the college’s overarching objective of digitally enhancing its farm teaching site. It is part of a new consortium of colleges in the region, which this year developed the Yorkshire & Humber Institute of Technology, now one of 12 across the country which is designed to increase higher-level technical skills.

A training boost which will improve employment opportunities and provide highly qualified employees for employers.

Askham Bryan has more than 5,000 students and trains around 800 apprentices at sites across Northern England.