Apprentice Liam is a farmer of the future

Liam Logan, an apprentice at Whitsome Hill Farm
Liam Logan, an apprentice at Whitsome Hill Farm

A BUDDING farmer from the Borders is blossoming as an agricultural trainee on The Co-operative Farms’ apprenticeship scheme.

Liam Logan, from Berwick-upon-Tweed, was unemployed for two years before securing the two-year placement working for Britain’s largest farmer at its Whitsome Hill Farm in Duns, Berwickshire, which is managed by Co-operative Farms.

The 21-year-old is ploughing ahead with his academic studies and hands-on training on the apprenticeship scheme, which is designed to help The Co-operative Farms find and train the farming talent of the future.

Now almost a year on the scheme Co-operative farms are delighted with Liams progress and aptitude for the job,

Liam left school with nine GCSEs and spent several summers working on farms during his school holidays, and is making the most of the opportunity given to him, displaying a sound knowledge about agriculture, both in the field and the classroom.

Liam said: “Since I started on The Co-operative Farms’ apprenticeship scheme I’ve not looked back. I love being outdoors in the fresh air and I’m doing something different and learning something new every day, from the basics in grain store management to arable farming to how to drive forklift trucks and tractors.

“When I started the scheme I had been unemployed for quite a while and before that I worked in shops and factories but that was a bit boring, so when I saw the opportunity for the apprenticeship and a career in farming I jumped at the chance.

“I knew The Co-operative was a good place to work but the apprenticeship has been much better than I expected and I’m enjoying every single minute of it. There is so much variety and you’re learning new skills all the time, as well as working in a team and also on your own, so it’s a great all-round preparation for a career in farming.

“It can be hard work though, especially during the harvest, but it’s also great fun too. I would definitely recommend apprenticeships, especially if it’s a career someone is interested in. And what’s better still is that as well as learning new skills and gaining qualifications and vital practical experience, you also get paid and there is a real chance of a job at the end.”

The Co-operative Farms currently has three other apprentices working on its farms at Down Ampney in Gloucestershire, and Tillington in Hereford, as well as Ashby St Ledger in Warwickshire, which is also managed by Co-operative Farms.

They are all studying for an agricultural NVQ at Reaseheath College in Cheshire, one of the leading land-based colleges in the country, where they will have two to three years to complete the course and achieve up to a level three.

Each apprentice also has an individual teaching package relevant to the farm they work on, as well as learning about key areas of the business – cereal and root crops, vegetable and fruit growing.

David Watson, who oversees The Co-operative Farms’ apprenticeship scheme, added: “We have been impressed by all of the apprentices, many of whom had no previous farming experience, who have demonstrated fantastic enthusiasm, motivation and commitment.

“Farming today is much more than just growing food. It is about being a sustainable business that cares for the environment, protects local wildlife and raises awareness about food.

“The Co-operative is looking for the next generation of farmers who are as passionate about fresh food and the outdoors as we are. Our apprentices have surpassed our expectations and are making the scheme the success it is and they are shaping up to become farmers of the future.”

Youth unemployment is high on the political agenda and last week, National Apprenticeship Week, the focus of attention was very much on increasing the number of apprenticeship schemes such as those offered by Co-operative Farms.

The Forum of Private Business in its submission to the Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee’s inquiry into apprenticeships urged the Government to simplify the entire apprenticeship system in order to make them more business-friendly and appealing to industry leaders, as well as making them more appropriate to the needs and requirements of UK businesses.

The Forum says training courses such as apprenticeships need to be seen as more worthy, with better information provided to bosses about courses and their effectiveness. They also highlight the need for there to be incentives for small businesses to take on young people and rewards for those that do.

The Forum’s Jane Bennett said: “Our members value on-the-job training, and our latest research backs this up. Apprenticeships are an attractive training method for employers, but we think the Government could boost their appeal by making them much more business-friendly.

“The problem is that the majority of courses are not flexible, which is essential for small firms.

“There is also a lack of information available to small businesses about course benefits and therefore they find it difficult to navigate a complex system made up of numerous courses.

“Clear information on the effectiveness of courses is also especially important because small firms need good quality that increases competency.”