Two years on from taking over as Vice-Chancellor of the Royal Agricultural University in Cirencester, Jo Price’s plan for its renaissance is beginning to work, as I discovered when I spoke with her at the launch of the Alliston Centre.
According to everyone I see, it is having a radical effect on how the English speaking world’s oldest centre of agricultural learning, is perceived both nationally and in the local communities of Gloucestershire.
Jo Price recognises that the RAU must work hard to build upon its reputation as a centre of excellence in farming and land management, by extending it to the food supply chain, animal welfare, rural enterprise and the environment. She also recognises that in order to succeed the farming and the food industries require participation, not just from the sons and daughters of farmers and landowners, but from a wider constituency involving those with no traditional association with the land.
I believe that Jo Price’s new broom - with a big emphasis on marketing and raising awareness - is beginning to create a clear, and potentially successful, vision for the RAU.
She says: “The critical opportunity we see is for the RAU to get the message across that we offer opportunities for learners interested in a career across the entire agri-food sector, not just agriculture.
“It is simple common sense for us to decrease our reliance on foreign food in a potentially hostile, and increasingly competitive, post Brexit world.
“Agri-food extends beyond the farm and its immediate neighbours in the food chain to retail and procurement, health and wellbeing.
“There are great careers to be had in these areas. Many young people are interested, not just in eating food, but in its origins, its treatment and the impact its production has on the environment and on human health. This gives us a great opportunity to recruit more young local people to join the RAU.”
Jo Price is excited about the RAU’s new Cirencester Growth Hub which opened last week at the Alliston Centre on the campus.
It is an offshoot of the very successful Local Enterprise Partnership Growth Hub on the University of Gloucestershire’s Oxstalls campus. It will provide business advice and services to all types of local business-not just agricultural -and will be integrated with the RAU’s ground breaking Farm491 project which supports agri-tech innovators.
“The Growth Hub and Farm491 will bring businesses closer to the RAU and help our students gain more experience of the real-life business world” says Jo.
“It will help redefine the unique selling point of the RAU as being a place which is really serious about the business and leadership of sustainable food production, farming and land management.”
Like me, Jo Price believes that there must be far more of a food and drink and rural economy focus for Gloucestershire’s 2050 project which has this week closed its initial public consultation.
She says: “Going forward the RAU is not just about land management and farming, but the whole business of sustainable food production in the widest sense. This vision will hopefully make put us at the heart of our local communities as well as make us a sector leader.”