One of the biggest challenges facing agriculture is developing new talent, and offering young people the opportunity to enter the sector.
This year’s Agri Forum at the YFC’s AGM attempted to tackle the issue.
Speaking on the panel was Peter Kendall, chairman of the AHDB and former NFU president, as well as James Price, a progressive arable farmer from Oxfordshire and Tom Rawson, a dairy farmer that has transformed his family business.
What was the greatest challenge when you started out?
James Price: “One of the biggest challenges I faced was having a farm in the first place. Of course I was incredibly privileged to have the choice as to whether to start farming, but it can build complacency.
Best advice offered
Peter Kendall: Find a specialism and work hard to prove yourself, either in the family business or the wider industry.
Tom Rawson: There are huge business opportunities for people wanting to farm others’ land.
James Price: Get your face out there – social media is an excellent opportunity. Seek advice and experience from the entire farming world, it’s often offered free.
“I’d say get off the family farm and make a name for yourself. I worked at Yara for five years and got all around the country talking to people looking at others’ farms for free.”
He added that, inheriting a farming business was not necessarily a blessing – he had to work incredibly hard to help transform it.
For Tom Rawson, it was his parents’ attitude to change. He found new ideas at discussion groups, as well as taking a Nuffield Scholarship, but found it difficult to convince his family to alter the business.
“Get succession right, work with your parents and siblings and nail it all down, then get on with it and make some money.
Sir Peter Kendall faced the challenge of making a name for himself as one of a number of siblings. He said gaining expertise in one area of the farm and proving your worth to the business was crucial.
“I always had to make room for myself. It was developing my own area of expertise – work bloody hard and demonstrate that you are valuable to that family business.”
How can a new entrant buy land?
Tom Rawson: “Buying land is never really on my radar. Wealthy east-Anglian arable farmers, let them be happy with their 2% return on the land. We [in dairy] will take the 8% return farming it for them.
“Return on capital, when you are starting out is most important – there are huge opportunities to create a career based on farming other people’s land.
“The key for me as a dairy farmer is trying to own as many cows as I can. Cows are a highly liquid asset that you can sell if you need to in a hurry, they produce a calf every year. You can grow your asset base.”
Sir Peter Kendall: “Look to gain skills using the technology that ‘old gits’ can’t handle. You have got to find a niche.”
If you want to get into farming proper, get a specialism, he said.
“It might be precision farming work, but you might develop a really good relationship with a farmer who is looking to for contractors, or a landowner who wants to rent a farm out.
James Price: “Today, you have more opportunity to get your name out there then ever before. Look at social media, our names are out there all the time. It’s all about getting yourself known and recognised for what you are doing.”
See also: Read more from the Young Farmers AGM
Skills and training
Sir Peter Kendall: “The skills you have and the education that you accumulate are vital. Take the time out – training is absolutely fundamental to success.”
Tom Rawson: “Have a good plan, know where you’re going and what you want to achieve. Networking is crucial – even if it’s at the bar at midnight, it’s all valuable.”
Also, the industry is incredibly generous with its time – “I don’t know a successful farmer that doesn’t want others to get on.”
If starting from scratch, which sector would you choose?
James Price: “If I’m honest it would be one of the unsubsidised industries. The marketing and everything else has to be so well geared up because it has to exist unsupported.”
Tom Rawson: “Dairy is the most important sector of agriculture in the world. I understand that arable boys enjoy your holidays, and your shooting.
“We like to work hard, and enjoy ourselves at work. I wouldn’t want to be in any other sector.”
Peter Kendall: “If we had more pig finishing units in the east of the country, imagine how much that would be putting back into the soil and organic matter.”