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Inspiring the Next Generation

It’s the time of year when survey results seem to drop into my inbox with increasing speed and most of them probably as a result of businesses reviewing their plans for next year.

However, the latest survey from Barclays Bank tells a familiar story and could have far-reaching consequences way beyond next year for the future of agriculture in Scotland and the UK.

Barclays asked a sample of 18-30 year olds about their future career choice … and no surprises to those of us in the industry – only 1% said they would consider a career in farming.

If I was in Cabinet Secretary Fergus Ewing’s shoes right now, I would be extremely worried about his policy to double the turnover of Farming, Fishing, Food and Drink by 2030!

Where are the people who will deliver the raw products from the land and sea going to come from? Surely a doubling of the output in these sectors will require something not far off a doubling of the workforce? The target is that 500,000 personnel will be working in the above-mentioned industries within the next 12 years … But, if only 1% of the future workforce are even interested in producing the raw ingredients, then what hope is there of ever hitting that target?

Barclays have recruited former JLS Band member and TV presenter – J.B. Gill to give farming a younger and “cooler” image and help recruit new farmers.

Announcing the #FarmtheFuture campaign, Barclays’ Head of Agriculture Mark Suthern said “the next generation will be vital as the sector strives to boost productivity and drive growth forward”.

But will this latest drive to recruit a new generation of farmers actually succeed? I sincerely hope it will have some impact, but I worry about the lack of joined up thinking in getting youngsters interested in our industry.

I have written about our very own Farmer Jones Academy (FJA) before in this column and the idea coming from the discovery that farming, food and drink was not being taught as a career path in secondary schools.

A year ago we set about putting this right and started our secondary school programme of installing the hardware (polytunnels, raised beds, orchards etc.) in schools and then teaching youngsters how to make a business with the produce they have grown.

Our first year at Nairn Academy has been a real success and together FJA and Nairn Academy have developed a real understanding of how to get youngsters interested in everything to do with farming, food and drink.

We have invested a lot of time, effort and money into getting the initiative off the ground and after a promise from the school of 12 pupils, we have ended up interacting with 55 at some point since August!

The next stage is that FJA has applied to become Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) approved to be able to deliver and certify Foundation Apprenticeships in Food and Drink in secondary schools.

These Foundation Apprenticeships give youngsters real practical hands-on experience of life beyond the school gate and a chance to experience the world of work for themselves.

Hopefully what we are doing with FJA will address some of the lack of joined-up thinking in getting youngsters interested in our industry.

Our experience so far has been that if we get youngsters on-board with the industry as they go through school, then at 18 they can follow a natural progression path into the food and drink industry.

We have had all kinds of problems setting up FJA due to apathy from industry leaders, politicians and many others, but we have carried on regardless and with a tremendous team in place we are planning an expansion way beyond what we thought was possible even a few months ago.

Contrary to the Barclays Bank survey, our experience shows that there is a real thirst for knowledge about farming, food and drink among our next generation and the key to unlocking that enthusiasm is by “walking the walk as well as talking the talk” at secondary school level.

Some in the farming industry seem to think that taking youngsters on a farm trip is all that’s needed to get them interested in a career in farming, food and drink, but let me say here and now that it takes way more time and effort than that!

I would appeal to those who want more young people coming forward into the country’s biggest industry to tell their politicians and industry chiefs about Farmer Jones Academy and if you want more information about what we do, please get in touch!

Farmer Jones Academy CIC – a Community Interest Company (not for profit)

Twitter @farmerjonesy