A host of special guests have gathered for the official opening of Myerscough College’s state-of-the-art, multi-million Food and Farming Innovation & Technology Centre.
Chairman of the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership, Edwin Booth, and The Lord Curry of Kirkharle CBE, were the Guests of Honour at the ceremony to mark the opening of the complex, which is set to be a sector leading centre of excellence for industry training and research in beef production.
The FFIT (Food and Farming Innovation & Technology) Centre, on the site of Myerscough’s Lodge Farm, is a major flagship build for agriculture and associated courses at Myerscough. The main FFIT Centre comprises of a red brick, two-storey building to house the research and teaching facilities that link with the various technologies in the nearby Livestock Innovation Centre and farm. The FFIT Centre also boasts facilities to support food research and development with the aim of creating a resource that both local businesses and students can use to investigate opportunities to process and add value to on-farm produce.
This includes specialist teaching, demonstration and research facilities including a teaching laboratory, soil laboratory, instrumentation room, production development kitchen, as well as a conference room, general teaching rooms, offices, a dining area and changing facilities.
Ann Turner welcomed invited guests to the official opening of the centre, saying: ‘’The FFIT Centre showcases the latest technologies and innovations, sourced from around the world, for precision UK agriculture.
‘’They have been purpose built to provide the ideal environment to demonstrate cutting-edge developments in the food and farming industries, whilst providing an ideal setting to train and educate the next generation for a highly skilled agriculture industry.’’
The complex is also home to a Livestock Innovation Centre, which provides new livestock production facilities with embedded technology to promote precision farming practices. The LIC can accommodate up to 180 cattle at a time, but it is the technology within the building that sets it apart from other buildings typically found on farms.
The £7.5 million project, which has been facilitated with generous support of the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership, has been more than three years in the making, beginning with a successful ‘expression of interest’ bid to the LEP in March 2014. As a result, the plan was further developed with the brief being to establish a centre of excellence at Myerscough College which showcases the use of innovation and technology in farming and the production of food, focusing especially on grazing livestock and grassland management.
The project was finally approved by the LEP in June 2015. Planning permission and contractors were secured in January 2016 and construction commenced in February 2016. Now the build is complete, staff and students will actively engage with the technology from the outset and are eagerly anticipating the research trials that can be carried out on various aspects of livestock management.
WATCH: The Food and Farming Innovation & Technology Centre is opened by Edwin Booth:
In summary, the centre comprises of the following technology:
- First commercial UK installation of AfiFarm 5.2 herd management solution - an innovative in-line system that has been developed over the last decade in Israel. It works by recording data on milk produced from each individual cow in a herd.
- State-of-the-art analysis & teaching facilities, to support food production, research and development
- First UK installation of Hanskamp out-of-parlour walkthrough feeders
- Accurate Diet Formulation system utilising Keenan Pace Technology
- Livestock nutritional research & behaviour monitoring with GrowSafe technology - one of the first colleges in the UK to be fitted with this technology from Canada which automatically monitors diet intake and associated data.
- Conference facilities with break-out areas, research labs, IT-suite and meeting rooms
- Practical and innovative technology for efficient grassland and crop production
- State-of-the-art handling and weighing systems with bluetooth technology
Craig Thompson is Head of Agriculture & Countryside and outlines the benefits the FFIT Centre will bring: ‘’The FFIT project is a bold and ambitious project which offers numerous significant benefits to the food and farming sector within the North West. Not only will the College be training farmers for the future, it will also give existing farmers and rural businesses the opportunity to see how innovation and technology can be used on their farms.
‘’It will also reaffirm Myerscough College’s place amongst some of the leading land-based Colleges within the UK. Our learners will leave Myerscough already experienced in the very latest technology the agriculture has to offer, putting them in pole position for leading positions within the industry.’’
John Wherry, Deputy Principal Resources at Myerscough College, said: ‘’The centre enables the College to make a significant contribution towards the realisation of Lancashire Enterprise Partnerships Strategic Economic Plan.
‘’Myerscough already has a significant network of local businesses including more than 6,000 farmers, 80 small food producers who are members of college managed Made in Lancashire and around 1,200 employers who the College interacts and delivers training to in any given year.
‘’The project will ultimately result in the creation of a centre of excellence to lead the development and adoption of precision farming techniques within the livestock and grassland sectors. The facility will also provide resources to support the development of local food products. As the project is being delivered on the College’s existing Lodge Farm site it will therefore be integrated into existing farming activities and directly support curriculum delivery on the farm.’’
Edwin Booth, Chairman of the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership (LEP), said: “The new centre at Myerscough College is the first of its kind nationally and will be a hub of excellence and innovation to lead the development of precision farming within livestock and grassland sectors.
‘’It will encourage the roll out of research and innovation to help transform Lancashire’s agricultural sector, as well as supporting the development of local food production. The LEP has invested in the new FFIT centre through its Growth Deal Skills Capital Fund in order to help address significant skills shortages in Lancashire’s agricultural sector and attract new entrants to the industry.
This is part of a major investment programme by the LEP which is creating a network of new training facilities to develop the specific skills and capabilities in the county’s workforce required by employers in key economic sectors.“
WATCH: The Livestock Innovation Centre is opened by Lord Curry:
The AfiFarm system, which feeds directly into the FFIT Centre, is the first installation of its kind in the UK. The system instantly analyses cow’s milk at source, enabling the farm to quickly identify and act on any potential feeding or health issues, improving milk production, milk quality and the longevity of the herd.
James Oddie is Myerscough College’s Director of Farming Innovations and Operations, and explains more: ‘’Afimilk are world leaders in this technology. It’s a significant investment to the farm here at Myerscough and it will move us forward leaps and bounds in our ability to manage our herd. The potential for research and data we can get is phenomenal.
‘’Milk gets analysed from each individual cow to check if it has mastitis or other illness, while a pedometer leg tag monitoring system monitors potential distress levels, as well as identifying digestive problems, fertility issues, and lots more. All the information can then be accessed via PC software, with alerts being sent directly to a smartphone so immediate action can be taken.
‘’The key is the fact that we will be able to make quick management decisions on individual cows.
‘’The decision to install a full Afimilk Herd Management System moves Myerscough forward significantly on the dairy side, complimenting the beef production side of our operations.’’
Although the installation is predominantly for the College’s commercial operations, learners on agriculture study programmes will have access to some of the data generated by the system. This will give students a much more rounded experience of dairy farming with instant access to information.
Craig Thompson, Head of Agriculture at Myerscough College, adds: ‘’The new installations are an invaluable addition to the farm resources and will really enhance the learning experience of our students. The demonstration of cutting edge technology combined with research opportunities will service the needs of both our students and the wider agriculture sector.
The main photograph shows Edwin Booth, Chairman of the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership, with Myerscough College Principal and Chief Executive, Ann Turner, and Chairman of the Myerscough Corporation, Stuart Heys. The other photographs show the VIPs on a tour of the facility.
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by Dave Salmon