Askham Bryan College reveals plans to create a digital farm of the future

A college farm is going digital to equip its students with the skills to succeed in the farming industry of the future.

Catherine Dixon, chief executive of Askham Bryan College, York.

Work is expected to begin this autumn on creating a £670,000 digital hub at Westfield Farm within the main York campus of Askham Bryan College.

Due to open next September, the facility will have the latest robotic milking parlour and automated calf feeding system, and a farm information centre with a digital classroom.

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Around 60 of the college’s 200 dairy cattle will use the new robotic parlour with the rest being milked traditionally using the rapid exit parlour system.

Catherine Dixon, chief executive of the college, which specialises in land-based further and higher education courses and apprenticeships, said: “We want our students to experience the very latest technology as this will equip them to be at the forefront of their chosen industries.

“Digitalising our farm means that we will be able to collect data, analyse it and compare different milking systems, looking at costs and driving efficiency. Monitoring animal health is also vital and again this will inform how we manage the herd.”

Ms Dixon said the college will also use the new facilities for applied research projects to bring the college’s work with employers even closer together.

The project is aided by a £430,000 grant from the York, North Yorkshire and East Riding Local Enterprise Partnership’s Skills Capital Local Growth Fund.

Dr Ruth Smith, chair of the LEP’s skills and employability board, said farming will need to innovate as it adapts to the withdrawal of funding from the European Union in the years ahead.

“By investing in Askham Bryan’s technology offering, we’re ensuring that the young people of the region will be prepared with the right skills, to not only seek employment in the farming industry, but to develop as the next generation of leaders in agriculture,” Dr Smith said.

The project was endorsed by Northern Powerhouse and Local Growth Minister Jake Berry, who added: “An investment of £430,000 from the Local Growth Fund towards the Digital Future Farm project will further develop the digital connectivity of Westfield Farm. The expansion of Askham Bryan College will offer students the opportunity to study agricultural courses and make a positive impact on the future of farming.”