The average age for farmers of 58 means that 60,000 new farmers are needed over the next decade. Additionally, with a total farming labour force in excess of half a million there will be a requirement to replace many of them.
All of which means that attracting young people into the farming industry is essential if Britain is to be food secure. Yet the uptake of modern apprenticeships in the industry remains low compared to other industries. Surveys amongst young children have shown that the industry is viewed as “boring, repetitive and low-paid.” Many believe you have to come from an agricultural background to consider it as a career.
Speaking at a Lantra Business Surgery on a Modern Apprentice, Gary Mitchell, Chairman of NFU Scotland’s Milk Committee said, “We need to motivate children in schools to get them interested in agriculture.”
One problem is groups that have introduced farming educational initiatives for schoolchildren don’t include workers within them. Two years ago, Landworker highlighted the Countryside Alliance Foundation charity for its failure to even mention workers on its Countryside Investigators website for schools. ‘Producing our food’ involves only the farmer, vet and gamekeeper!
It’s the same for much of the materials produced by the major charity Farming and Countryside Education (FACE) that aims to ‘educate young children and young people about food and farming in a sustainable countryside.’ FACE’s 44 page document ‘Why farming matters to the South Downs’ is packed with some fascinating information but only twice do farm workers get a brief mention.
The British Wool Marketing Board has recently launched www.britishwoollearning.com ‘to inform school children about the story from farm to product.’ Again, there is no mention of workers although, at least, in this case when the organisation was asked why the omission, its marketing manager, Tim Booth, said, “I take on board your comments and perhaps that is something we can consider in the future.”
Other organisations may be unwilling to raise the importance of rural workers but UNITE is not. The union is developing a schools visits project and is seeking rural schools invites. Organiser Joe Rollin said, “It is an educational failure that many bodies working with schools won’t acknowledge the vital role played by agricultural workers. This then means children don’t consider apprenticeships in the industry when they leave school.
Any UNITE school visits will recognise the role of agricultural workers. We would welcome invites to rural schools as they are often overlooked by the union movement and this then feeds into higher levels of exploitation of young rural workers.”
You can contact Joe at firstname.lastname@example.org