Since the closure of Newton Rigg College was announced, community organisation Newton Rigg Ltd have been working on strategies to rebuild land-based education in Cumbria.

NR Training was launched in July and is now offering its first courses as a land-based training provider, starting with dairy management and horticulture. The initiative has been led by Dr Jane Sullivan (educational consultant and Director of Newton Rigg College 2015-18) and Newton Rigg Ltd Director Andrew Counsell (former Principal of Duchy College and Vice Chair of Landex).

Dr Sullivan said, “Alongside the fight to preserve use of the Newton Rigg site for education, we have been working very hard to rebuild the future of land-based education in Cumbria as pivotal to our rural economy and to support the next generation of farmers. We are very excited to offer expert-led, industry-focussed courses for dairy farmers as the first of many more planned within our Rural Business School vision. We’re lucky to have such experienced and passionate tutors ready to hit the ground running and be part of our bold vision to restore Cumbria’s long heritage of excellent agricultural and land-based learning, at a time when skills development is so critical for our farming and rural business communities.”

Newton Rigg Ltd says Cumbria’s local and business community has really come together in the fight to preserve Newton Rigg and to rebuild land-based education in the county. The organisation has received support from numerous donors and major employers including Westmorland Ltd and the Carr’s Group.

NR Ltd Director Chris Crewdson said, “With the launch of NR Training we are on the path to a sustainable solution for Cumbria and we are so grateful to the individuals and organisations who have supported us financially and with their advice and expertise. This is a community effort and we believe our county will look back with pride in future. We hope that any others who want to be part of this drive to rebuild land-based education in Cumbria will get in touch to offer their support or donate via our GoFundMe crowdfunding page”

Meet the tutor: James Webster teaches Advanced Dairy Management

James is a leading independent dairy consultant based in Cumbria having gained a BSc (Hons) in Rural Resource Management at the University of Reading. Having worked in this role for 15 years, James has an excellent track record of delivering change on dairy farms. This ranges from technical herd management and nutrition through to business structure and driving financial improvements. James designed the Advanced Dairy Management course with the sole purpose of upskilling current and future dairy managers. This is done by providing the most current guidance, knowledge and tools to push dairy businesses forward.

How did you start in farming and where have you farmed?

I’ve been working as a farm consultant since 2008, and doing so independently since 2015. I started consulting in the Midlands and moved to Cumbria in 2009. The variety of the work I perform gives a great perspective of all dairy systems.

What led you to become an independent dairy consultant…

Fluke actually. I fell into by accident after coming from a farming family, having an agricultural degree from University of Reading and working initially for a dairy nutrition company. I wanted to work with farmers to help improve their whole business.

and what’s special about undertaking this role in Cumbria and the north of England?

No better place to produce milk. Excellent dairy land and climate for growing grass. Full of hard working, dedicated and down to earth farmers.

Tell us about the Advanced Dairy Management course that you designed – when and why did you develop the course and how do you feel it has it helped farmers in their roles?

I designed the course in 2016. The course is constantly evolving, I update the content continually. I have a passion for helping dairy farmers develop and improve herd and business performance. I started the course as there was a gap in training. Nothing else is available in the region dedicated to pushing farmers as stock people but also business managers

What do you feel are the most critical challenges facing dairy farmers at this time, and how can the Advanced Dairy Management course help?

The main issue is rising input costs which continually erode the farms margin. Farmers need to constantly become more and more efficient to keep pace. This is where the course comes in. It revolves around improving efficiency and herd performance. The knowledge transfer is revolved about bang up to date thinking, research / practice and practical advice.

Meet the tutor: Dr Jim Clapp teaches Sheep Management throughout the Shepherd’s Year

Dr Clapp is an experienced farm animal veterinary surgeon who has practiced in Cumbria since 1984. In addition Jim has in the past taught students at Newton Rigg and Newcastle University, where he gained his PhD in 2010. Jim has spent many years as a visiting researcher at Newcastle University and has also supervised summer schools and degree thesis work for the School of Agriculture at the university. Jim is currently a veterinary locum for two vet practices in Cumbria and is NR Training’s lead tutor for Sheep Management throughout the Shepherd’s Year.

How did you start in being a vet and where have you practiced?

I wanted a medical vocation and saw vets had a more holistic view of their patients compared with human medical specialisation. I have practiced in Cumbria and Northumberland also taught students at Newcastle University and Newton Rigg when part of Cumbria University. I qualified as a vet in 1980 and have treated farm animals in many UK practices. I was in practice with my wife in Alston from 1985 to 2006. I still do locum work for large and small animal practices in Cumbria.

What would you say have been your most valuable working experiences?

A life time of treating animals and working with their owners.

How have your studies and qualifications helped you in your own veterinary roles?

Studies to degree level and above were only the basis of my knowledge. Years of experience in practice has taught me most valuable skills.

Tell us about the Sheep Management course that you have designed with NR Training.

In practice every year the same issues come up in farm work, sheep are no exception. The course is to target these issues in a timely fashion to help both current and future shepherds.

Sheep farming is no different from other farming enterprises in this day and age. Margins are tight and no year is the same economically. Consequently any help to improve the management skills of shepherds will benefit both the sheep and their keepers.