Defra Secretary visits Royal Agricultural University

23 Nov 2018

Michael Gove visited the Royal Agricultural University (RAU) today to learn about its key role in the development of skills for the agri-food and land management sectors and its initiatives to help the industry navigate change.

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) toured the University’s Rural Innovation Centre (RIC) at its Harnhill Manor farm, where he heard about the range of practical programmes on offer for both professionals and students, such as courses in calf-rearing and the safe use of medicines on farms.

The importance of farm animal welfare was emphasised, with Mr Gove learning about Professor David Main’s work on welfare assessment and RAU’s Buitelaar dairy bull calf-rearing project involving academics, industry and welfare organisations working in partnership. PhD student Emily Edwards, described research that is underway to address the significant challenges facing the dairy bull calf rearing sector, including antibiotic usage.

The strong emphasis the University places on developing leadership and business skills and entrepreneurial acumen was showcased during a visit to its Trent Lodge site.

Mr Gove met business consultant and Honorary Fellow Christine Cross who mentors students as part of the University’s award-winning Enterprise Programme, which provides an inspiring and supportive environment in which students can share, develop and launch their ideas.

The focus on entrepreneurship continued when Mr Gove was shown around the £4.2m Alliston Centre, which opened on the University’s Cirencester campus this summer, supported by funding from the GFirst Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP).

The building is home to the Cirencester Growth Hub, which develops regional businesses of all kinds in a collaborative environment, and Farm491 – an incubator for small and medium-sized Agritech businesses.  

A key strategic priority for the RAU is the development of a Knowledge Hub that will pioneer farmer-led innovation, act as an accelerator of rural enterprise and become a centre for “thought leadership” for the informed development of evidence-based policy and strategic thinking. 

The Alliston Centre’s developing links with industry were evident when Cotswolds MP Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, who studied at the University, chaired a meeting of the National Farmers Union with Mr Gove in attendance.

Mr Gove toured the campus with the Vice-Chancellor Professor Joanna Price, who explained the RAU’s strategy and vision to become one of the UK’s leading specialist universities and to attract students from a wider range of backgrounds.

He met with students from a variety of programmes, ranging from postgraduate study to the One Year Farming programme - a tailor-made course which enables students to hone their practical skills. He also met with delegates on the Worshipful Company of Farmers’ Advanced Course in Agricultural Business Management (ACABM).

Mr Gove also learned how the University is developing a new range of degree courses in partnership with industry that focus on the leadership skills graduates in the sector will need as our land-based industries take an increasingly global outlook.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Joanna Price said: “We were delighted to welcome the Environment Secretary to our University at a crucial time in our development as we are launching a new strategy that will enable us to become a leading specialist University providing a fresh perspective for the land agri-food and rural enterprise sectors during a period of uncertainty and opportunity.

“It is crucial that more people from a wide range of backgrounds are attracted into the agri-food and land management sectors and the RAU is committed to giving our graduates the real world skills they need to play leading roles in shaping the future of these industries, our rural communities and the landscapes and environments we treasure.”

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, MP for the Cotswolds said: “I am pleased to have joined the Secretary of State for Defra, The Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, at the RAU.  This has been an excellent opportunity for the Secretary of State to meet with students at the University and also to meet with local farmers to discuss pressing issues and concerns for local farmers post-Brexit.”

Environment Secretary Michael Gove said: “It was fantastic to meet students and staff in Cirencester and see first-hand the training and development of skills that are so vital for the industry’s future. 

“I was particularly interested to see the emphasis on farmer-led innovation and the opportunity for students to explore, develop and share their own ideas. This is essential and must be encouraged.

“Our landmark Agriculture Bill, which is currently going through Parliament, makes this an exciting time to be a young farmer or new entrant to the sector, with the opportunity to farm in a greener and ultimately more productive way.”