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A sustainable workforce?

Dr Gillian Rose discusses the barriers causing fewer young people to follow farming related careers.
We really struggle in the agriculture industry with workforce. We’ve got a huge number of older age farmers and relatively few farmers coming in to actually take their place. And some of them would like to have retired or cut down on the farming activities, but they don’t have anybody to hand the farm over to. But that presents opportunities for new farmers, as well. For things like shared farmer schemes where they can come and work with an experienced farmer for a while, and then with a view in the next few years to taking over the farm.
Agriculture in some ways can be very much disconnected from the general public. You walk into your supermarket and you buy your milk, and you don’t think about where it comes from. There’s no agriculture in the national curriculum really at primary school. At secondary school, we focus on the sciences. And then career choices once you leave secondary school, often if you’re interested in plants or animals, you push more to the biology. If you grew up in a rural location where we are today, there’s farmland surrounding us then children tend to be more aware, adults tend to be more aware of that as an industry.
But certainly for large cities or towns where you very much have this disconnect between produce and livestock and where meat is produced and the young people, then it’s difficult for them to understand that this is a career. We need people who don’t come from the agriculture industry. Because if you grew up on a farm, you inherit a way of thinking about agriculture and how farms work based on your experiences and what you hear day to day on the farm. If you come in without that bias almost, than you come in with fresh ideas.
Most young or new farmers will enter the industry because they’ve inherited a farm for a family member, and then you have the infrastructure and you’ve got the knowledge that comes with that. And you’ve got the access to the markets for your products, and coming into the industry new and fresh there are huge barriers to entry. So even things like trying to find farmland, good quality farmland that you can purchase is becoming increasingly problematic. And then you’ve got the cost of farm land, particularly when you’re competing in the fringes of towns and villages with housing developers who see the land, farmland potentially as good housing mixtures. So the cost of land as is often prohibitively high.
And then if you’re talking about machinery and tractors and dairy parlours, the kind of capital that you’d need to start up a farming enterprise it’s usually prohibitive as well. And then to work your way up can be hard as well. To see yourself in a job for 15, 20, 30 years before you can take over the farm. We’ve got a huge wealth of experience in our older farmers that we need to maintain, but we need the new generations of that career prospects. And if you enter a career in agriculture, but can’t own your own farm or can’t grow your own produce or keep your livestock, then people will leave the industry.
New farmers, young people will leave the industry because you want to have your farm, you want to have your business, and that’s not always possible.
I think there is a huge untapped potential in other disciplines. Things like engineering or IT are hugely important skills. So we may look at not just attracting children of farmers or people who grew up in more rural areas to pursue a career in agriculture, but those with IT backgrounds, those with engineering backgrounds who can use technology to really move on the agriculture industry. Who knows what will happen in the future, who knows what will take off. Drones are becoming increasingly popular. Things like robotic milking has been around for a while, but it’s only now it’s starting to become a little bit more affordable. I think we need to look at some of the limitations, and there’s simple limitations just now.
So things like in rural areas having Wi-Fi access or mobile access is nonexistent or very patchy in some areas, and you only have to try and phone a farmer in the middle of summer and you can’t get hold of them because there’s no mobile phone. So we need to sort that out in rural areas before we can start to look at the good technology that we can use.

Dr Gillian Rose, Associate Professor at the University of Reading, discusses the barriers which are causing fewer young people to follow farming related careers.

Disconnect as to how food is produced, a lack of agricultural related learning in the national curriculum and a lack of awareness of farming as an industry are all reasons for low take up in the sector.

What is your own awareness of employment opportunities available in the farming industry? What infrastructural changes do you think would make it easier for young farmers to enter farming?

Share your thoughts in the comments area, below.

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