Down On The Farm
PUBLISHED: 16:26 26 April 2012 | UPDATED: 21:18 20 February 2013
Spring is well and truly sprung at Lackham College, one of the finest times of the year to see what's going on. Michelle Chapman went to find out more.
Lackham wears its spring clothes very well. Flowers line the drive leading up to the college, providing a cheerful welcome. The Estates trees are clothed in fresh green as their leaves emerge to greet the sunshine. Its a busy time for students and teaching staff alike as the growing season swings fully into action. I caught up with Dr Robin Jackson again, together with colleague Mike Draper, to see whats been happening since my last visit.
Theres been much in the news recently about the possibility of drought, so I was surprised to hear Mike say the wheat and oil seed rape grown over the winter havent been struggling. Unlike some parts of the county, theyre on clay this year, he told me, so the soils adequate moisture and the relatively mild winter means were seeing growth thats more luxuriant than Id like.
The diseases spotted so far this season arent as anticipated either. Instead theresa problem with rust, which is usually seen later in the year when the weather gets warmer. The impact of this plus the excess growth means therell be an alteration in the planned crop treatments over the next few weeks. Students will also need to ensure everything is notedcarefully in the farms records.
We then discussed the new pests and diseases seen nowadays. The Schmallenberg virus which affects sheep and cattle has recently been in the headlines as a new disease hitting our shores earlier this year. Pests like the Citrus longhorn beetle, which has been found in a few imported Japanese maple trees, and the oak processionary moth seen mainly around the London area, are ensuring both staff and students are kept on their toes.
Everyone is keeping a watching brief on these developments because its not known when they might reach Wiltshire, the College itself, or the farms and businesses of students and their families. Its an opportunity to add these current developments into discussions with the appropriate student groups, explained Mike. It keeps the curriculum fresh, topical and up to date, added Dr Jackson, and should any of these problems hit the Colleges estate or farms, then the students will be involved in dealing with them in a much more practical way.
However, everyone needs to focus on the seasonal activities associated withrunning the estate and farms. Thereare animals to take to the sales, sheepshearing, maize to sow and the first cut ofgrass to take for silage making.The showing season is also gatheringpace. Horticulture students are planningtheir exhibits for The Bath and WestShow at the end of May and growing onthe plants they need.
Other students are preparing variousanimals for the show ring. This is thefun side of studying, whilst adding moreskills to the students portfolios as well asgiving them an opportunity to show whattheyve learned.
Meanwhile at Lackham House,the Colleges jewel in the crown, thewedding season is well under way withmany celebrations booked to take placein the splendid interior and extensivegrounds. I wasnt quite sure of the roleLackham House plays in the Collegesfortunes, so I was keen to find out.
Its part of Lackham College, butits run as a separate enterprise to theteaching activities, Dr Jackson told me.Its a conference and wedding venue,popular with both businesses and bridesalike. He added, Students are involvedin a limited way, with lawn cutting andother ground maintenance duties, forinstance. Not only does Lackham needto look good for visitors, timing is keybecause no one wants the sound of alawnmower during their presentationor marriage vows. Thats good becauseit shows there can be a conflict betweenday-to-day duties and other activities.Its a valuable lesson for students to takeaway for the future when they considerbusiness diversification.
Whilst students learn about thepotential consequences of their actionsand ensure any muck heaps are wellout of view for wedding photographs,sometimes not all visitors needs canbe met. One customer did complainabout the green water in the pond andasked us to clean it up, said Dr Jackson,however, we had to refuse becausethere are Great Crested Newts in thereand theyre a protected species. Its anexample of the sometimes unexpectedconflicts between different operations.
However, having different enterprisesat the College has benefits whichoutweigh any potential conflicts ofinterest. A number of firms regularlyhold demonstration days, often bringingstate of the art machinery and otherequipment which are displayed in thegrounds. It means students and staffget to see a far wider range of whatscurrently available. Wherever possible itsalso arranged for students or staff to sitquietly at the back of relevant seminarsand presentations. Its a cost-effectiveway of keeping knowledge up to date,said Dr Jackson.
The teaching staff and careersadvisors are also busy helping students intheir choice of career or their next stepon the learning ladder. Dr Jackson toldme. Our courses have a wide varietyof options and potential jobs at the enddepending on those choices. Its essentialwe give good advice to our studentsand also go out to tell school pupils andtheir teachers about the great careers thisindustry has to offer.
One of Wiltshire Colleges mainactivities over the next couple of monthsis the 100 Apprentices in 100 Daysscheme operated by Wiltshire Enterprise,the Colleges business services division.Launched in February and finishingmid May, its the second year theCollege has sought to raise the profileof apprenticeships to both prospectivestudents and businesses alike. Alreadya number of students have signed upunder the scheme, with one agriculturalengineering and three agriculturalapprentices signed up in the first threeweeks alone.
Dr Jackson explained:Apprenticeships have come a longway over the past few years and ourcourses are designed to meet theneeds of a wide range of employersand rural-based careers. Theyre a realalternative to academic studies. Thereare apprenticeships for all skills levels,so were also seeing people returning tocollege seeking higher qualifications intheir chosen career.
The balance between classroom-basedand hands-on training varies. LANTRA [theorganisation overseeing the needs of landbased training] has worked very hard withemployers and education providers to ensurethe curriculum for each course is exactlywhats needed so students leave with theright practical skills and qualifications.