THE new £2.4m state-of-the-art dairy unit at Newton Rigg College is to be officially opened next month at a ceremony expected to be attended by 400 guests.

The formal opening on March 21 will be carried out by Lord Curry, former chairman the Policy Commission on the Future of Farming and Food.

Afterwards, the Sewborwens Farm unit’s inaugural Holstein herd will be blessed by the Bishop of Carlisle, the Right Rev James Newcome.

Invited guests will include representatives from the Cumbrian farming and rural community as well as national figures, business represent-atives, college governors, staff and students.

Liz Philip, principal of Askham Bryan College, which took over the running of Newton Rigg in August 2011, said: “The significance of the opening of our new dairy unit should not be underestimated, both on a national and regional scale. We promised to put agriculture back at the heart of Newton Rigg and this flagship dairy is tangible proof of that commitment.

“Our vision is that it will become a centre for dairy excellence, providing a national focus for learning and best practice.”

The unit comprises two buildings, one to house the cows, and the other for the 30:30 Fullwood Quick S parlour. A dry cow unit, handling facility and fresh cow housing pens complete the new site.

A viewing platform will enhance the tours which are planned for interested groups and individuals, including prospective students.

Maximum animal health and welfare and efficiency of operation lie at the heart of the design, which includes numerous environmental features. In terms of water management, the college has worked with the Eden Rivers Trust.

Newton Rigg lost its original herd to foot and mouth disease. It was not replaced until autumn when the Tallent Holstein herd was purchased.