Although the numbers of agricultural students at UK universities have been on the up since 2015 (https://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/mar/31/agriculture-uk-fastest-growing-subject-career-student-farmers), a recent study by Barclays Bank revealed that over the past 10 years the number of farmers aged 65 and over has increased by 70%.
This is an alarming statistic, as the farming sector needs to bring in as many younger recruits as possible in order to maintain effectiveness and handle the challenges posed by climate change and food poverty. Even more worrying is that only 3% of millennials think farming may be a desirable career. This is despite the fact that more than 50% of millennials stated they wanted outdoor jobs.
More about the Barclays agriculture study
Some of the major findings of the Barclays Bank study (http://newsroom.barclays.com/r/3675/barclays_backs_next_generation_to_boost_britain_s_farms) include:
- total number of British farmers aged over 65 has risen by 70% in the past decade alone
- total proportion of individuals running farms and under the age of 25 has fallen by 63%
- the average age of farmers in Britain is now 55.5 years, and almost four out of every ten UK farmers is 65 years old or more
A huge proportion of the millennials (aged 18 - 30) surveyed by Barclays indicated dream career criteria which could encompass farming. More than 75% of the survey group said that remaining healthy and physically fit while at work was an important factor to them. And, around 48% of the people surveyed indicated that they would prefer to work with animals. However, only 3% of the survey group said they might consider an agricultural career.
It does seem that lack of understanding of the farming environment, combined with the belief that financial resources are unavailable, could put many younger individuals off the idea of becoming a farmer. Around 59% of respondents felt that becoming a farmer was unaffordable, and 43% thought they needed to inherit land in order to become a farmer.
Barclays have now partnered with JB Gill, the former JLS pop star, to encourage younger people to enter the agricultural sector. JB Gill turned his back on the boyband lifestyle and is now a turkey and pig farmer and a great role model for aspiring farmers. He says:
"There’s a lot of misconceptions among young people about what a career in agriculture really means. It’s hard, physical work so it keeps you fit, you get to work with animals, you’re your own boss and you can keep up with the trends by posting everything on social media for everyone else to see. The farming community is really welcoming, providing newcomers with knowledge on everything from tending to animals to financial advice. You don’t need to have your own land to work in agriculture, there are many options from farm management through to the service industries and I would encourage anyone interested to give it some serious consideration – it’s a life like no other!"
Barclays launched their #FarmtheFuture campaign in November 2018 and hope to encourage more existing farmers to work towards their future and get more involved with the younger generation.
Although many farms are passed on to family members, farmers who don't have any direct succession are being encouraged to explore options like share farming agreements. These can allow new farmers to enter the sector in a partnership arrangement with the farm owner. Share farming does not require such a hefty investment in the purchase of land and these junior farm business partners can grow their farm business as they gain experience over the longer timeframe.
The National Head of Agriculture for Barclays, Mark Suthern, said:
"Barclays has over one hundred and fifty agriculture relationship managers working the length and breadth of the UK to support businesses within their local communities and help them plan for the future. Every industry needs new talent to innovate and look to new markets, and the next generation will be vital as the sector strives to boost productivity and drive growth. British farmers have proven time and again their ability to diversify, innovate, and weather tricky economic conditions, so the skill and experiences the older generation can bring are vital. But the next generation need to learn the skills to carry businesses forward in the future. The best place to make your first enquiry on a road to a farming career is your local agricultural college or university".
Many popular agricultural colleges and universities are gearing their courses towards the eco-conscious solutions needed to make a difference when farming in the modern environment. Some of these are highlighted in the following section.
Contemporary farming courses fit for our future climate
The UK countryside has always been a popular destination for city dwellers, so contemporary and trainee farmers need to consider all the benefits of preserving and enhancing their local environment to benefit visitors and perhaps enhance income levels.
Global warming is also a major consideration for potential farmers of the future. With estimates that the world will be up to 1.5°C warmer by the year 2052 at the latest and that food poverty will be an increasing reality, trainee farmers really need to take on board the sustainable agricultural solutions that will benefit them in the future.
Some of the principal agricultural colleges offering this form of forward-thinking education include:
- the Royal Agricultural University (RAU) which has always taken a lead in farming education and is based close to Cirencester. The RAU offers a wide range of courses including food security, agriculture, agrifood, enterprise environment, rural land management and equine science.
- the School of Agriculture, Policy and Rural Development based at the University of Reading is particularly geared towards sustainability. Available courses include sustainability of agricultural ecosystems, climate change adaptation and ways to mitigate, food security, and animal welfare and behaviour and food chains.
- the College of Environmental Sciences and Engineering at Bangor University is also committed to offering courses that address some of the most urgent environmental issues faced today. One of the university's major research interest is the impacts that marine systems have on climate change. Bangor University is also home to the Nuclear Futures Institute which is becoming globally acknowledged for advances in engineering and nuclear science.
A couple more universities offering progressive courses in agriculture include Queen's University in Belfast and SRUC, Scotland's Rural College.
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