How Rhonda Thompson is developing farming stars of the future at Bishop Burton

The pedigree Hereford breeding programme gives  Bishop Burton College students first-hand experience of rearing a range of breeds
The pedigree Hereford breeding programme gives Bishop Burton College students first-hand experience of rearing a range of breeds
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Encouragement comes through passion and a belief in others’ ability to succeed. Those who offer the words and actions that provide such impetus in the brightest of ways are usually effervescent, positive individuals and Rhonda Thompson of Bishop Burton College fits the bill impressively.

“I love developing people, helping them find their way in the farming and rural world and providing the platform for them to meet their goals, have a very real sense of expectation and grasp opportunities.

Rhonda Thompson, business development manager for the College's Centre for Agricultural Innovation meets one of the newest additions to the flock.

Rhonda Thompson, business development manager for the College's Centre for Agricultural Innovation meets one of the newest additions to the flock.

“Agriculture like every other industry is a business and particularly with Brexit now imminent it is all the more important that everyone focuses on the future.

“It’s vital for tomorrow’s farm managers, those who will command positions within agricultural companies and those going back to their family farms that everyone knows their cost of production, how to sell themselves, how to market produce and how to motivate others who work as part of a team wherever they are.

“Every business we talk to through the college is looking for vibrant, positive, forward thinking young people who have an enthusiasm for agriculture and to my mind there has never been a better time to be studying in college or getting involved with our many and varied initiatives.”

Rhonda’s education pedigree includes working in the training departments for Waitrose and latterly the Royal Agricultural University in Cirencester for ten years. She has been with Bishop Burton College for three years having initially arrived to look after the collaborative efforts between business partners ASDA, ABP, Cranswick and Dunbia at the college through the Centre for Agricultural Innovation.

“Our 894-acre farm is our USP (unique selling point) and it is wholly managed by the college. We have a 100-cow Holstein dairy herd, a 40-strong pedigree Hereford suckler herd, 500 North Country Mules and Texel X and a high welfare pig unit. Our livestock provides 50 per cent of the fertiliser needed for our cereal varieties and roots crops.

“Demands on the agricultural industry are constantly changing and the relationships we have developed and are constantly developing with business partners, utilising our farm for agricultural research is mutually beneficial to the companies and our students as the work conducted here can of course lead to future employment for those concerned.

“We have fabulous relationships with a number of companies including Agrii, one of the UK’s leading agronomy businesses. Their head of research and development now works out of the college. We are also now officially recognised as the north of England’s main innovation farm.” Rhonda is constantly seeking to add further businesses to the college’s roster as she believes the greater the link with companies then the greater the future employment opportunities for those who study and become involved in such as trials and case studies.

“Our farm is the key. We can undertake so much practical research here. Recently that has included creep feed trials to monitor the body condition of cows and growth of calves until weaning sponsored by ASDA and ABP; a rye pig feed trial sponsored by KWS and Agrii that substituted wheat for rye in the diet; and a milk powder formula trial for calf weight gain sponsored by Irish company Bonanza. We are in an ideal position to help businesses and in return they are enthused by our students and their passion for agriculture. It’s that kind of thing that brings future employers and employees together.”

Summer placement for degree students studying at the college is another of Rhonda’s arsenal in ensuring their personal development away from Bishop Burton College.

“Students go in to companies for a 12-week period where they learn far more about teamwork and the work ethic. We started this last year with four companies and this year we will have 10-12 involved.”

Developing talent doesn’t stop after college study years and Rhonda has brought about a Farm Management Development Programme through forward thinking farmers that is aimed at aspiring or already employed assistant farm managers, agricultural industry managers and those returning to run family farms.

“We run it over two weeks – one in November and the other in February – at our sister college of Riseholme in Lincolnshire. It’s my genuine belief people get more out of projects by working together. Everyone sorts out their natural order – who is the leader, who is the number cruncher, who is the hands-on farm manager.

“The people who attend are usually between the ages of 21-31 and we bring together speakers who I feel will motivate them to believe they could aspire to each speaker’s position on farms or in business.”