Bishop Burton College is a popular learning centre for studying land-based industries. Its principal Bill Meredith once had dreams of becoming an agronomist, but he has no regrets about the path his career has taken.

Bill’s childhood home was an arable farm in Lincolnshire and his interest in growing crops led him to take a Higher National Diploma in Agriculture course at Harper Adams University, followed by a crop protection qualification. During his studies, he was offered a job as an agronomist upon completing the course when, quite by chance, he was taken in an entirely different direction.

“I was looking at the university notice board and spotted an advertisement for a machinery lecturer at Bishop Burton College,” explained Bill. “It attracted my interest and having secured the job and relocated to the area in 1982, I moved between several of the outreach centres that the College operated in those days, dividing my time between them.

“However, it was not long before I was given an opportunity to take on the role of head of the College’s agricultural centre near Hull. This mainly involved running the apprenticeship programmes.”

In 2008, Bill left Bishop Burton to manage the University of Lincoln’s Riseholme College.

“I spent four years at Riseholme, but structural changes to the organisation meant that its management was put out to tender and Bishop Burton won the bid. Therefore I ended up back where I had started. Having worked my way up to becoming vice-principal, I was made principal in 2017.”

Bishop Burton College, nearly Beverley in East Yorkshire, has an 850-acre farm with a range of enterprises including pigs, cattle and sheep and an arable rotation. Pig numbers had been in decline, but the herd is being revived and there will be a switch from providing ‘bed and breakfast’ pig accommodation to the establishment of a breeding herd. The project will be run in conjunction with food company, Cranswick.

The other enterprises on the farm include a herd of Stabiliser suckler cows, whose calves are taken to finishing, along with a flock of 300 cross-bred ewes. An additional resource is the 500-acre mixed farm that is owned by the University of Lincoln and is available for use when teaching practical tasks to students at the Riseholme centre.

In 2021, Bishop Burton launched a centre for precision agriculture and has incorporated some of the techniques in the farm’s crop production programme. The centre organisers regularly hold ‘technology transfer’ days, to demonstrate the effects of precision systems to growers.

The opening of the Centre for Precision Agriculture by Graham Stuart, MP for Beverley and Holderness , watched by Bishop Burton College Principal Bill Meredith in 2021

The opening of the Centre for Precision Agriculture by Graham Stuart, MP for Beverley and Holderness , watched by Bishop Burton College Principal Bill Meredith in 2021

Operating across the two sites Bishop Burton has more than 3,000 students, with 450 residential places. It is run by approximately 500 staff, with courses ranging from foundation level to post-graduate qualifications. The organisation has recently been subject to a baseline carbon audit and there is a firm expectation that the figure will improve, as further measures are taken to protect the environment.

“The college has a small-scale wind turbine and utilises solar energy through roof panels on some of the buildings,” said Bill. “There is also a system for recycling food waste from the canteen. This produces electricity, with the by-product spread on the land as fertiliser.”

Bill used to be based on the college site but now lives in Ellerker in the East Riding of Yorkshire. His working day is varied and could include staff and student communications, meeting industry employers and liaising with other educational establishments. Meanwhile, in his spare time he enjoys gardening, walking and antique collecting, as well as another hobby that is close to his heart.

“My great-grandfather was the artist, John Hassall, who is best known for the ‘Jolly Fisherman’ poster that was commissioned by the Great Northern Railway. It was drawn in 1908 and carries the slogan; ‘Young and old find Skegness so bracing.’ John was described as the ‘king of poster artists at the turn of the century and I enjoy collecting his work.”

In terms of the future of Bishop Burton, Bill confirmed that the college will carry on championing sustainable farming using precision agriculture techniques and taking additional steps towards the improvement of the organisation’s environmental credentials.

“Generating some of our own electricity has brought savings on the annual bill and we are working toward a goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2030. Bishop Burton is a thriving college and being principal is a great privilege, although we are under pressure from funding cuts and having finances squeezed with the effects of inflation.

“One of our strengths is in working with other institutions, because there are valuable opportunities in collaboration. We also pride ourselves on our connections with the wider farming industry and with the people who are working on the land,” said Bill.