Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Agriculture goes cool in bid to harvest next generation of farmers

What do you think of when you think of a farmer? 
Wellies? Heavy rain jacket? Trudging through mud? Sorry, I think you’ll find that’s a British festival-goer. Farmers are cool. 
At least, that is what those trying to convince a new generation to go and work in the farming industry want them to believe. 
Thousands of new entrants are needed to keep British farming going – fewer sons and daughters of farmers are following in their parents’ footsteps and the average farmer is 58 years old. 
In a bid to bring in some fresh meat, Farmers Weekly magazine has come up with the Farmers Apprentice. 
The campaign will see ten people between 18 and 25 – five farmers and five non-farmers – selected from thousands of entrants and put in a farming boot camp for a week to complete a number of tasks. The eventual winner will be given £10,000 to give them a start on the farming ladder. 
Entrants must send in a 60-second application video. The shortlist of ten candidates will be announced in September. Those behind the contest are keen for contestants with expertise in business, marketing and economics to apply alongside those with farming backgrounds. 
The goal of the competition is to encourage the next generation of farmers to step up, but it is a difficult battle. 
A recent survey of students by the Careers in Farming and Food Supply initiative, set up to attract people into the food supply sector, revealed that only four per cent would consider agriculture as a career choice, while one in four students said farming was ‘boring’. 
‘I think there’s still a feeling within the younger generation in schools and also within the generation that are currently teaching school kids that agriculture and farming is not a career option,’ said William Frazer, editorial projects manager at Farmers Weekly. 
‘There’s a huge stereotype that it is low-paid, it’s very conservative and there’s not much room for creativity, when in fact there’s huge room for growing start-up businesses and being quite entrepreneurial. 
‘We need to make it clear to the generation of 18 to 25-year-olds that actually there’s a whole lot of opportunity out in the countryside within British agriculture and it can be very appealing. You get to do what a lot of us like doing anyway, which is working outdoors, being quite practical, being healthy. 
‘The countryside is a completely open template for people to go in and think about how they start up new businesses.’ 
Mr Frazer said there had been a lot of discussion within the industry in the last five years about the lack of new entrants. 
‘There’s absolutely a problem in terms of the future and who are going to be the farmers that are producing food that’s going on to British plates,’ he told Metro. 
Farming has been in the headlines again in recent week – dairy producers say a move to cut milk prices will cost them thousands in income, while the president of the National Farmers Union, Peter Kendall, said so-called ‘super farms’ may be needed to help feed an ever-increasing British population. 
Despite these issues, Richard Jacobs, chief executive of Organic Farmers & Growers, believes British farming is in a good state. He is supportive of the Farmers Apprentice competition to bring new people into the industry. 
However, he is keen to stress it’s not a glamorous pursuit. 
‘I don't want people to think that we’re trying to portray farming as some sort of sexy, sleek fast cars type occupation,’ he said. ‘Even when you wear sunglasses when you’re driving a tractor, it’s still a tractor. 
‘It’s important to emphasise that farming is hard work but what can be more satisfying at the end of a long day than knowing that you are contributing towards producing food that people need to eat. It’s what makes the world go round.’ 
Mr Jacobs said the management and technology skills being acquired by young people at schools and universities could be put to good use in the modern farming industry. 
He said the future for British farming is very bright but that Britain is still far too reliant on imports. He pointed out that British consumers are more food savvy than they have ever been. 
‘The last two or three years of the recession have really brought that into sharp focus – many more people are thinking about the food they buy, they’re thinking about can they produce their own and in many cases, even on a small scale, they’re doing what they can to produce their own,’ he said. 
‘I think that’s brilliant. People must have an understanding of how food is produced and the more the farming industry can do to help people understand how food is produced, the better.’ 
He said the role of the farmer is that of ‘a guardian of the landscape’.
Mr Frazer agrees. ‘Farmers are delivering a hell of a lot to society, from managing our whole countryside to delivering all the stuff that helps people through extreme weather events,’ he said. ‘I think it’s quite an awesome role to have within society.’ 
Go to www.farmersapprentice.co.uk for more information
Go to www.facebook.com/farmersapprentice or follow @farmapprentice on Twitter
Tweet your views to @MetroUK using the #farmapprentice hashtag


- British farming needs 60,000 new entrants in the next 10 years to keep the country fed

- 1,000 new entrants are needed every year in farming for salaried management roles

- 476,000 people work in the farming industry

- In 2011, farming added £8.8bn GVA (gross value added) to the British economy – a 25% increase from the previous year

- For every £1 that farming contributes to the economy, food manufacturers and wholesalers contribute a further £5

- From field to plate, the agri-food sector contributes £85bn to the British economy and employs 3.5m people

- Britain is 60% self-sufficient in food, a drop of 15% in the past 20 years

- Almost one third of all farmers across England and Wales are involved in renewable energy generation, producing green energy

- The average age of a British farmer is 58

- British farmers will need to feed an extra 7m people in Britain by 2027

- Farmers are responsible for managing about 75% of Britain’s surface area

- Wheat is the most common crop, with about 2m hectares planted every year

- 230 tonnes of potatoes, 25,000 loaves of bread and 200 tonnes of meat will be eaten in the Olympic Stadium in London during the Games

- Each British farmer supports another 120 jobs

- British dairy cows produce 60 million pints of milk a day, enough to fill 15 Olympic-sized swimming pools

- The biggest Claas combine harvester weighs 20 tonnes and holds a further 20 tonnes of wheat. That 40-tonne total is the equivalent of 10 African elephants

- The latest GPS-guided tractors can navigate themselves from one end of a field to the other and back to an accuracy of 1cm and without the driver touching the steering wheel

- Lamborghini and Ferrari continue to manufacture tractors

Sources: Farmers Weekly, National Farmers Union

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