2 November 2001

Rural brain-drain as farming suffers

By Tom Allen-Steven

FEARS are growing that the countryside is suffering an unprecedented brain-drain as farmings depressed state drives talent into other forms of work.

Numbers of agricultural students have halved over the past five years, with many graduates taking jobs in unrelated industries. Consultants and other farm-related companies have warned of a lack of talented job applicants.

Former farm managers rather than fresh-faced graduates are being recruited by firms like Lincolnshire agronomists Farmacy. Managing director Mike Young said: "Many graduates havent rationalised in their minds where their future lies. There simply arent enough to choose from."

Alan Thomas, registrar at Harper Adams, the countrys largest agricultural college, said farming students had dropped from 224 to 112 within five years. More students are studying at the college but they are signing up for equine, environmental or business management courses, he said.

Careers officer Maria Simpson said many students saw farming as the poor relation to other careers. She added: "Theyre going for the big growth industries like fresh produce technology."

Philip Wynn managing director of Aubourn Farming said potential new entrants were put off farming by so much adverse media coverage. "The industry is not attractive at the moment. The downturn in profitability means poor salaries are on offer."

Those left in the industry are getting older. The average age of farmers is 58. The Association of Independent Crop Consultants says the average age of its members is 55. "The industry needs a turnover of people and new graduates coming in to stimulate new ideas. Its a real cause for concern," said David Sessions of consultants ADAS. &#42

Rural brain-drain? Employers are searching high and low for talent.