In an innovative move to help sustain the future of farming, Upper Teesdale Agricultural Support Services (UTASS) has announced that it has been offered £170,000 from LandSkills North East to fund its Farmers of the Future trainee scheme.
Diane Spark and Peter Nailon
Initially 6 to 8 trainees will learn the diverse skills needed for upland farming in an effort to encourage more young people into agriculture. The scheme has already attracted considerable interest among local farmers and the selection of 12 host farms is now underway.
UTASS was originally set up to advise and support the Teesdale farming community who found itself isolated during very hard periods and has grown into a much valued service. Now it is dealing with a different crisis - that of the entire future of hill farming in the region. As Diane Spark explains, "Farmers of the Future is an exciting project which will help us respond to, and hopefully address, the declining numbers of young people farming in the North Pennines".
The project was developed by UTASS after the North Pennines AONB partnership funded an initial feasibility study on the viability of operating an apprenticeship programme based on a similar model in Cumbria. 85% of the costs of training will be funded by the Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE) through the LandSkills North East programme. Landskills is managed by Lantra Sector Skills Council on behalf of the Regional Development Agency, One North East. The remaining costs will be met by contributions from the host farmers and UTASS will also be gifting a significant amount of resources in terms of management and administration.
Starting in June, the trainees aged from 16, will receive a comprehensive 12 month programme in upland livestock farming and countryside management. They will learn the art of Sheep Shearing followed by Basic Animal Handling and Care, Mole & Rabbit Catching, Tractor Driving and Farm Record Keeping. During this time they will be employed by UTASS and receive a training allowance in line with the agricultural training board wage appropriate to their age group.
Peter Nailon Landskills North East Project Manager tells us why they are supporting this innovative programme: “Landskills North East want to help these trainees develop a portfolio of skills relevant to employment in these upland areas. On completion of the programme the aim is that they can either progress their careers, further their education, or look at becoming self employed”.
In what must be very good news for the future of the industry, the first intake was greatly oversubscribed. UTASS received over 30 expressions of interest, mainly from 16-21 year olds, based as far afield as Derwentside, Hartlepool and Stockton.The next stage of the project is to confirm the 12 host farms. During the year trainees will work with two or three different hill farmers throughout Upper Teesdale and Weardale. A number of farms have already expressed interest in the scheme including Andrew Robinson who says “I think that the Farmers of the Future project is a great idea. We’ve not got many young ones wanting to work on farms any more and this project will help to change this”.
Any farmer who is interested in finding out more about being a host farm for the Farmers of the Future Project should contact Jan at UTASS on 01833 641010 for more information by 29th May 2010.
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