The farmer of the future will need more knowledge and skills than ever before, the UK’s Young Farmers have been told.

CAP changes, volatile currency markets, the potential rapid spread of diseases and 24-hour rolling global news coverage are all game-changing, Jonny Williams, Wales YFC Rural Affairs vice chairman, told delegates at the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee (ARAC) forum in Torquay on Saturday 28 April.

“Agriculturalists have to be economists, commodity traders and current affair specialists. They need to know of the latest disease challenges and chemical resistances, of weather patterns in Argentina, Ukraine and New Zealand, of demographics in China, India and Africa, not to mention the national debts of our European colleagues,” he said.

The successful ones will have broadminded attitudes, flexible working practices, superb communication skills and a hunger for knowledge, Mr Williams added.

“We must also remember the personal touch – the ability to reach out to neighbours, colleagues and, vitally, the consumer. As important as it is to be listening and responding to international markets, we must continue to educate our consumers and our political maters – particularly when they currently control our financial viability through the CAP.

“We must be allowed to embrace the latest technologies, genetic modification and all. We must be allowed to use all reasonable methods to control pests and diseases at sustainable methods. Otherwise, I fear we will be fighting a losing battle – a losing battle to feed the world with one hand tied behind our backs.”

Helen Reeve, NFYFC Agriculture and Rural Affairs chairman, said: “This is a great time for considering careers in the food and farming industries – the prospects are so exciting. Life’s too short not to take advantage of the opportunities.

“We, as young people, have never ha a better time to have a say in how the industry goes forward.”

Katherine Sealy, England YFC representative for the European Council of Young Farmers (CEJA), highlighted how the age profile was skewed, with just 2.8% of farmers in the UK under 35, compared with a figure of 6% in Europe.

“How can we expect to be dynamic and competitive if everyone’s nearing retirement age?” she asked.

Farm minister Jim Paice agreed that encouraging older farmer to leave the industry could help new entrants and said government would look at ways to help “ease the older generation out” in a bid to open doors to new entrants.

Mr Paice, himself a former YFC member, described now as a “great time” to consider a career in farming.

He said the industry is on the verge of an exciting new era – although dismissed suggestions that cash help would solve all would-be farmers’ problems. 

Other issues, as well as raising money, were scuppering some people’s ambitions – such as access to land or a lack of skills and knowledge.

“We need entrepreneurial, innovative thinkers,” he said. “An increasing proportion of people in farming will be very highly skilled in business management.”

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