ANALYSIS – Agriculture is ageing and more must be done to draw young people into UK food production to meet growing national and world demand.
Studies show that young farmers adapt better to market requirements, are more willing to embrace environmental schemes and be more innovative with solutions.
For these reasons, younger farmers are more profitable.
However, many obstacles stand in the way, whether in inheriting or as a new entrant. Succession difficulties and a lack of money at the start can deter many from agriculture.
This was revealed by two young farmers addressing UK Dairy Day in Telford, who called for more action through the education system and social media to improve farming’s image.
Anna Stable, 24, and Michael Lawrence, 26, are both involved on farms in South Cumbria. They say farming’s stereotype of 'low skilled jobs for low pay' needs expelling and help must be at hand for young farmers overcoming financial barriers.
They lamented high land values, limited tenancy opportunities and high capital requirements for preventing new entrants coming into farming.
Meanwhile, those inheriting farms need better guidance with succession planning and help with separate ventures.
“Improved succession planning means improved business performance,” said Mr Lawrence.
This is key if ‘Farm Boy Syndrome’ is to be avoided, he explained.
The term is given to the phenomenon of the young generation on family farms reaching their mid-thirties and having no say in running the business.
Concerned about this growing phenomenon, Mr Lawrence said: “When people get to 35 they may lose their drive and enthusiasm.”
A possible solution to this is establishing enterprises within the family business and assigning responsibility according to specialisms and interest.
This gives ‘control of your own destiny’ and allows business minds to be developed, he added.
Both speakers were positive about retailers organising short courses for young people in apprentice-type programmes.
In terms of how outsider's view farming, Mrs Stable thinks much can be done through social media to improve its image.
“Social media is a tool that can be used to attract people into the industry,” said Mrs Stable. “People are on Facebook and more farms have their own websites.”
“It enables interaction with like-minded people and can be used to promote agriculture’s positive side.”
Explaining the role education could play, she added: “I think there should be better links in school made between subjects like Geography and the Sciences and their application in farming.
“More needs to be done to dispel myths that agriculture is low paid and low skilled. Agriculture is ageing and without young people where will the next generation be?.”
Educator's View: 'Roots to Customer' Approach
Assigning responsibility for separate enterprises on the farm is a great idea, according to Iain Clarke, Head of Agriculture at Reaseheath College.
Enrolment is high at the college, growing from 40 agriculture students to 400 over the last decade across the wide spectrum of agriculture.
What needs work however are supermarket led training programmes for young farmers, he added.
He would like to see supermarkets like M&S and Tesco form a coordinated programme offering a recognised qualification, rather than simply being 'token gestures'.
He added: “Supermarkets getting behinds projects is good but it does not offer accredited qualifications.
"Short courses are of limited use on their own, they are important but students need a qualification."
For the future, Mr Clarke said that a ‘roots to customer’ approach is needed in agricultural education, which needs to form part of a ‘whole farm’ approach.