College farm campus set for £670,000 digital transformation

Plans have been unveiled for a digital transformation at a college farm campus in York.

A digital technology hub is set to be constructed at Askham Bryan College’s Westfield Farm for student learning and to showcase the future of farming.

The £670,000 project will see the new facility feature a high tech robotic milking parlour and automated calf feeding system, plus a farm information centre with a new digital classroom.

Askham Bryan College specialises in land-based further and higher education courses and apprenticeship provision and has around 5,000 students from across the country.

The York, North Yorkshire and East Riding (YNYER) Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), via the Skills Capital Local Growth Fund, is committing £430,000 to the project.  

Dr Ruth Smith, chair of the YNYER Skills and Employability Board, said: “The LEP investment in the Digital Farm at Askham Bryan is an investment in the future. Our rural economy will likely face huge challenge in the coming years as the face of agriculture changes dramatically after funding from the EU is withdrawn.

“Farming will need to innovate and be ready to use the very latest technology that allows them to bring efficiencies into production lines.

“By investing in Askam 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.”

Catherine Dixon, the college’s chief executive, added: “We want our students to experience the very latest technology as this will equip them to be at the forefront of their chosen industries. Precision farming technologies are a vital part of improving food productivity and sustainability and for ensuring the very highest welfare standards are met.”

“To have support from the LEP is a real endorsement of our vision and we also look forward to welcoming students with a passion for the outdoors and employers working in the rural community.”

Around 60 of the college’s 200-head dairy herd will use the robot with the rest being milked traditionally using the existing rapid exit parlour system.

Dixon said: “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. Students will have the opportunity to learn whilst working on our digital farm.”

Work is expected to begin this autumn with completion anticipated for the start of term in September 2019.

The Northern Powerhouse and Local Growth Minister Jake Berry, said: “This Government is committed to boosting economic growth across the whole of the Northern Powerhouse and building a country that works for everyone. We have invested a total of £145.9m to the York, North Yorkshire and East Riding LEP through three rounds of growth deals.

“An investment of £430k 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.”

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