A group of students has put together a petition to 'save' Royal Agricultural University's Harnhill Manor Farm from sale.

The Royal Agricultural University, which is the oldest agricultural institution in the English speaking world, said the decision to sell Harnhill Manor Farm was part of plans to focus practical training on sites closer to its main campus.

Harnhill Manor Farm

Harnhill Manor Farm was purchased as a 622ac block by the university in 2009 and includes an integrated livestock and cropping system, part of which is managed organically.

It is also associated with a 120-sow outdoor organic pig herd, managed by the university as a joint venture with a local business partner.

It is also home to a mule Lleyn ewe breeding flock kept under a conventional farming system and calf-rearing enterprise.

Arable cropping at the farm is rotated with forage crops, grown to support the livestock and to facilitate an effective rotation to underpin the management of a mixed farming system.

The students behind the petition say they are concerned that the sale would deprive those who study at RAU of first-hand practical experience and reinforce negative messages about the future of British farming.

Several comments purporting to come from former staff and students have been left on the page supporting the campaign.

"Harnhill is an invaluable asset to the university, especially to those students who attend without a farming background," the campaign page read.

However, the university also leases other farms, notably Coates.

Coates Manor Farm and Harnhill Manor Farm total 491ha in size (1,200ac), and offer very different farming systems.

Leased farms at RAU

Coates Manor Farm is predominantly arable cropped, with some pasture land supporting the equine activity. There is also an equine enterprise providing a stabling and livery facility at Fossehill Farm.

Other farms leased include Kemble Farms Ltd., a 900-cow high-yielding dairy complex and Leaze Farm, a 300-cow autumn block-calving herd on a grass-based system.

Additionally, the university uses several farms, estates and businesses, both locally and further afield, for visits and practical exercises.

The university has also taken over the tenancy of a 2.6ha vineyard, producing white wine to be bottled and marketed commercially.

Prof. Mike Gooding, head of school for Agriculture, Food and the Environment at RAU, said: “As part of its commitment to continuously enhance the learning experience for RAU students, the university has reviewed the role of its farming operations in the delivery of teaching, research and knowledge exchange.

We have decided to focus our on-site teaching activities at Coates Farm, next to the university.

"In addition, we continue to develop strategic partnerships with local and regional farming enterprises, providing our students with an enhanced range of up to date best practice farming operations off-site.

“Only a small proportion of land at Harnhill is currently used for teaching and research - and the farm is not easily accessible from the main university campus.

"As a result, we are now in the process of offering this site for sale, whilst retaining the Rural Innovation Centre and Farm491 Agri-tech Hub located at Harnhill.

"This approach, fully supported by the university's Governing Council, underpins the opportunities which will become available as the RAU develops its academic strategy, aimed at satisfying the current and future needs of the food and farming industry.”