There is an underlying confusion about farming amongst children, with a gap between urban and countryside youngsters. Putting role models in place and giving children the opportunity to learn about farming through visits and growing food should be part of the curriculum.
A farming background can be an advantage for entry into farming, but can make people inflexible; anyone who is passionate and works hard can be a successful farmer and can add other skills and perspective.
However the industry also needs to be more open to entrants from non-farm backgrounds. Skill sets and attributes conducive to farming were cited as a strong work ethic, a willingness to learn, a real passion, core business, maths and English skills, and to be multi-skilled in the office and field. Farmers need to talk more about the positives of farming with rewards other than the financial side needing to be emphasized.
Low pay and bad conditions can put people off and so more needs to be done to advise young people about the diversity of careers in agriculture. Recruitment needs to be stepped up and made more professional, and the importance of agriculture for our future needs to be promoted more.
The discussion held on Thursday 20th December 2012 looked at the topic of “How can agriculture attract the brightest minds?” and generated a total of 648 tweets on the topic from 101 participants. These included farmers, agri-food businesses, rural advisors, land agents, lawyers, journalists, academics and NFU officeholders, as well as members of the general public.
Q1 Do young children actually know what modern agriculture involves? What is the image at the moment & what can we do to form it?
- The #farmapprentice school/education task proved kids can take on farming messages- they just need it delivered in the right way
- I’d say no – grew up with a certain image, it’s still far from the one in the UK. Education would help
- The image is that of an old farmer, braces and tweed-cap included!
- Unless they have a rural background I don’t think they do! Needs to be built into the curriculum to ensure food security
- I think it is very variable between areas and schools, some know lots and get involved, some know nothing
- When I went to college a 16 year old was asked “where do you get sweetcorn from” he replied mainly Morrison’s sometime Tesco
- A lot of kids I work with are from deprived areas – they live in towns and could be farmers but need an opportunity
- I think young people lack visible role models in farming if they are not from farming background
- School age kids are always fascinated when they see the growing process and are genuinely interested in learning more
- I think getting it integrated into town and city education would help
- I did food technology GCSE + it didn’t cover anything where the food comes from. Alarm bells were ringing
- I think young people’s perception has changed from the old ideal view. They know how hard it is mentally and financially
- How can agriculture attract bright young people? Ask them what they want and deliver it
- To attract 60,000 bright young people into Ag then it must offer competitive salary – harsh but true
- Too much negative press about farming & farmers struggles surely puts off young people
- I would dispute the 60,000 new entrants figure? I just don’t think the jobs exist
- So many students have an interest in environment & sustainability. There must be roles in AG to capitalise on this
- A more conscious effort of tying agri-related topics into the curriculum could lessen the disconnect young urbans have
Q2 Does a farming background lead to being a successful farmer? How can we get those outside ag to see its potential?
- It helps as does an experienced mentor/father figure, it certainly can’t be learnt at college
- Yes, farming backgrounds produce great farmers, but that doesn’t mean non-farmers can’t be just as successful
- Success builds to a successful career. To hell with the idea that must be born a farmer to succeed
- Industry needs to bridge the gap between youngsters from farm and non-farming backgrounds, arrogance is a no no
- Do you want outsiders coming in? Law of supply and demand, more workers – lower wages
- Some of best Ag students are those not from a farming back ground, they understand that they have to work for their future
- Not in my experience, growing skill can be learned or bought, marketing & negotiation skill is key for a successful grower
- Farming background helps, but education is key, theory and application is what makes successful farmers
- Loads of examples of people with no farming background making a success of their ag career. Not enough herald it however
- Not necessarily, silver spoon can come with silver shackles & preconceived ideas, vision limited by fathers and neighbours
- Attracting outside ag depends on lifestyle choice or monetary potential, at a young age more likely financial prospects
- To show the potential of ag, talk numbers. Showing salaries 4 jobs such as farm manager or agronomist would attract interest
- I was motivated by local farmer taking time to teach me. Now been a farm manager for nearly 20 years
- Any people fall into careers for whatever reasons but I think it’s difficult to fall into farming without initial passion for it
Q3a What constitutes the ‘best’ for ag- not presumably just great GCSEs/Alevels? How to judge the ‘best’?
- An open mind and a passion to learn are both very important in my opinion
- Good work ethic is a must with the will to learn! Farmers/bosses must me be willing to learn also
- Surely the very advantage of agriculture is its diversity as mentioned here. There is a place for everyone to be the best
- A sharp mind and a willingness to improve and learn. Qualifications aren’t essential, just an indicator
- Passion, Drive and Enthusiasm are required to succeed in any walks of life but few paths are as difficult as Agriculture
- Passion, perseverance, vision , clear thinking and a goal
- Agriculture has to ATTRACT the best, that means discovering what the best want and supplying it
- The key to attracting the best and judging them is responsibility, the best will relish and thrive on it, the rest will avoid it
Q3b Are we misleading youngsters on what farming’s about? Business or reality of hard work & little reward?
- Do farmers do enough to teach young workers about the business rather than just the practical skills?
- I think the personal definition of ‘reward’ is what will make or break someone in the Ag industry
- I think we need to make more of what’s rewarding about being a farmer rather than the pay
- Lots of jobs in hort, young people don’t last very long with the demanding workload and leave to stack shelves instead
- I agree a lot has been said on here about money. The lifestyle, responsibility and satisfaction is what needs promoting
- The #farmapprentice judges were def after more than just intelligence -comms, enthusiasm, teamwork
- Many go to work on a farm, do a hard days work and then come home with an average wage but then miss out on the lifestyle
- The money is there for the brightest who make the right choices and have contacts exactly like any other industry
- Farming is something you’ve got to enjoy & to be successful you also need to be driven/hard working & not expect it all instantly
- Younger folk now have more issues than just getting into the industry. Buying or renting a house in rural location is expensive
Q4a Lots of bright minds work in other professions and sectors – can we compare an ag career to these types of jobs?
- Farming is supported and served by many of those sectors, so a job in farming isn’t just working on a farm
- YES – I shared a flat at uni with a lawyer & 2 accountants – I’m the only one who loves my job the rest work to live
- An ag career stacks up against anything if u have the drive, passion & ideas – industry needs more promotion
- Running a modern farm has transferable skills: finance, people skills, making decisions to name a few
- You never hear anything good on the news about farming, it’s always despair stories. Would the bright minds really follow?
- Yes, but we need to include our whole industry incl research and advice, not just farmers
- The job can compare but not lifestyle. When most people at home their job is irrelevant, but farming isn’t like that
- General public need to be educated on the fact that there is much more to do in the Ag industry then just work on a farm!
Q4b If ag can be seen as career choice on same level as other professions, how can we compete for the brightest young minds?
- Ag can have an amazing + diverse career ladder, it’s just hard to find all of the rungs and some are missing. Move + climb to succeed
- Sadly I feel the main way to attract the brightest minds is well paid jobs
- Can it be compared to other professions?
- Explain more about the different routes that a career in ag could lead to. mix of entrepreneurship & learning core skills
- Obviously good salaries, but key is the ability to achieve your potential. That’s what young people want
- Dare I say it? We need to stop moaning! Don’t see hi tech industries moaning – tell people about exciting challenges ahead!
- It’s not so much knowledge but more about attitude. If the right person puts their mind to it they can achieve anything!
Q5 What puts off youngsters from both within &outside ag community from choosing a career in farming? What can encourage them?
- Long hours, poor pay, cold and wet, mud and muck, other miserable farmers, antipathy of public! Anymore?
- Believing that food know how inc / esp how to grow it will be the most important commodity of future might help
- My parents, both from farming families strongly discouraged me from agriculture. It didn’t work!
- Friends at sixth form thought I was mad, felt ag was hard work with no reward. Hoping to prove them wrong!
- Family disputes is a personal one! As well as arrogant farmers sons calling non farmers ‘wannabes’! There’s just no need
- I wouldn’t say i was ever put off but getting a foot on the ladder in the UK is hard, hence we are moving to Australia
- I hate to have to say it but many outside the ag community have no concept of what’s involved so chose other careers
- I fear that some youngsters from Ag backgrounds are put off by parents saying “don’t go in to Ag” – same for science too
- Rural infrastructure very off-putting for young people. Shopping, clubs, cinema, restaurants all miles away
- A local headmaster at speech day said he felt he had failed if any students, at age 16, wanted to go into ag
- H&S puts off farmers, farming being most dangerous industry, farmers can be quite shy, must come from schools
- Once I knew I wanted to be a farmer, nothing could put me off! Encouragement for others is showing that reward doesn’t = money!
- Engage youth early on, bring farming to them, excite imagination … and value established farmers to encourage ambition
- Schools don’t have resources to get out to countryside let alone farms.Everything has to relate to curriculum & be on plate
Q6a What can the farming industry do to recruit fresh young talent? What do you look for when recruiting someone for your farm?
- It’s important that when someone is taken on within ag they are actively developing skills & being given responsibility
- Schools have got to do more! Let the students grow their own plants from a young age, teach them responsibility
- Livestock sector needs more profit to attract staff. This must start with farm owners but perhaps some societal responsibility?
Q6b How does ag recruitment compare to the approaches of other industries and what can we learn from them?
- I don’t see it as any different to Construction it’s initially an easy option for some. If they’re dedicated they’ll succeed
- Got some work on next week, see you in the yard Monday at 7 & go from there! This sums up commercial farm recruitment
- Ag recruitment was non-existent at my school & uni. Good grades = pushed down certain channels. Ag not one of them
- Also jobs advertised in farming press so jobs aren’t opened up to unemployed professionals who could bring fresh ideas in?
Q7 Are people aware of the importance of succession planning to help youngsters into agriculture? Should they?
- I think younger people are, not sure if older generation care as much as they already have the farm!
- Won’t see me waiting till I’m 40 to do something!! Far too slow a progression
- I don’t think succession planning is the silver bullet to get kids in Ag, but it sure helps if kids can see a career path
- Does success prevent succession? Do successful parents stop kids reaching their potential as there is often only 1 top job
- Tax system works against passing Ag property on CGT v IHT. Hold over has limited appeal for farmers and banks.
Q8 Do many students out of Ag College have placement experience? Is it necessary? What should be done to facilitate it?
- One of the most important things to get experience away from home. Cost farmers a fortune with accidents
- I think we all agree, the Placement experience can add the skills needed to produce a rounded graduate
- Placement exp crucial especially farm kids who intend going home after college. Vital to get exp working someone who’s not Dad
- No placement year at Newcastle could’ve disadvantage but I followed up summer trials job with a full time post after degree
- I had 2 6month placements when at Seale Hayne, learnt loads. Its has made me employ 2 students to keep passing on the knowledge
Simon Haley, Reading Agricultural Consultants and Alan Spedding, 24 December 2012