Farmer Focus Arable: We must attract more young people, says Neil Thomson

A combined total of 434 years of service among 12 people on the same farm, or for the same employer, is an achievement worthy of celebration.

This is exactly what happened when the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland and Border Union Agricultural Society hosted a luncheon to present long service medals to these people.

One included our man Jock Todd, who recently retired from 50 years service on Blakelaw.

It was a most enjoyable day and I am sure that all the recipients were justifiably proud of their award – an apt way for employers to show their appreciation.

There was, however, much consternation from all the speakers about the future of the labour force on our farms.

We all know that a large workforce on most farms is a thing of the past, but the concern is that few young people appear to be enthused by a career in farming. Even if they are, a sense of loyalty to one farm or farmer is also from a bygone era.

However, are we farmers at fault for not offering a working environment that is comparable to other modern industries?

Analysis of my farm accounts highlights my point. Good advice tells us that we should spend no more than 15% of our gross output on labour and 15% on power and machinery. I’m well below target on the former, but uncomfortably above on the latter.

I’ve been sucked into the trap of getting big, expensive equipment that now appears to be costing more to run than the men they replaced.

My experience of working with a big squad in my vegetable enterprise suggests banter and social interaction is more valuable to them than having the biggest and best tractor and only seeing your colleagues at the diesel tank at the end of the day.

• More columns from Neil Thomson

• More columns from other Arable Farmer Focus writers

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