Alternative ways to get into farming

Initiatives are springing up across the industry to convince young people that careers in agriculture can come in many guises. But the key to success in all of them – from the perspective of both employer and employee – is skills development.



Many aspiring farmers dream of the day they can buy or rent some land to begin farming in their own right. But if you aren’t from a farming family, taking that first step on the ladder is going to be tough.

Starting your own farming business is difficult when land prices are at record levels, banks are cautious about lending and the number of county council starter farms is in decline. It is not impossible, but it is a challenge.

One of the conclusions of the Future of Farming Review published in July 2013 was that people should be “encouraged to explore other entry routes besides owning their own business”.

Fortunately, industry organisations are lining up to point out there are a vast number of other routes into agriculture that could be just as rewarding for young people.

Growing numbers of apprenticeship schemes are springing up involving farms across all sectors of the industry. At the same time, large agri-businesses and companies operating in ancillary industries are also putting a high priority on attracting bright young talent to work for them and are willing to invest in those people to develop their skills.

They are offering a range of interesting job opportunities backed by attractive salary packages, employment structures that allow promotion-based career progression, on the job training and even mentoring.

Bright Crop

One of the newest organisations trying to raise the profile of the huge variety and potential of jobs across the farming industry is Bright Crop – a cross-industry initiative that aims to inspire new talent to consider a career in food and farming by profiling people already in the sector (see right).

The initiative is aimed largely at secondary school-age students, teachers and parents, but its website, launched this month, is also a valuable resource for people already thinking about a farming career and in need of further inspiration.

Job profiles range from hands-on roles such as herdsman and tractor driver, to roles in related industries such as grain traders, researchers and policy advisers.

Some profiles also include a salary range, to give potential workers an idea of what they might eventually earn, so they can compare it with other industries.

David Yiend, chairman of Bright Crop, says: “Bright Crop’s mission is to inspire young people to make a career choice that is both stimulating and rewarding by talking their language and helping them see the range of exciting careers on offer.

“We all know our industry is often misunderstood, and Bright Crop is all about tackling perceptions in order to attract the brightest and best young talent to our world of work. This new generation of talent is essential if we are to meet the emerging global challenges.”

EDGE Apprenticeships

For young people who have already made the decision to go into farming, the difficulty can be finding an opening when they don’t have the right experience. For these, apprenticeships can be a solution.

One of the most ambitious of such schemes is EDGE Apprenticeships, an industry-led initiative set up in March 2013 that aims to educate, develop, grow and employ young people across the east of England.

Project manager Richard Self says the scheme is about equipping young people with the practical, managerial and technical skills required to develop successful careers.

It was developed after farmers reported they were struggling to find young people with the right skills to replace staff who were retiring.

“I’ve had such a good response from employers saying they need this,” says Mr Self. “We are very much focused on finding people at a technical and craftsmen level, as farmers are looking for bright people who can work on their own initiative to fill these roles.”

Mr Self says apprenticeships are a good way for young people to learn a skill that then gives them a basis to build on for the future. But he adds that employers have to step up to the mark and offer a meaningful training programme, or young people would become disillusioned. “Employers need to sell themselves, too.”

Jess Dale was the first apprentice to be taken on as part of the scheme and she started her placement as an apprentice stockperson with Howies & Sons at Wicks Manor Farm near Maldon, Essex, in July.

Fergus Howie, a partner in the farm, says the benefit of taking on Jess as an apprentice was the ability to teach her the way things were done on that farm from scratch.

The apprenticeship allowed her to have an income while studying and would make her “highly employable”, he says. But he added it was important that farms paid more than the minimum apprentice wage. “If you want someone to achieve what you want them to, then you have to motivate them.”

Jess says she chose an apprenticeship because she wanted to gain practical experience. “At university you get a piece of paper, but don’t necessarily get the practical experience. On an apprenticeship, you get both.”

McDonald’s Farm Forward

Opening young people’s eyes to the full range of skills that are needed in modern agriculture is the aim of the McDonald’s Farm Forward scheme, which involves a Progressive Young Farmer Training Programme.

As part of the programme, agricultural students from across the UK are given the chance to complete a 12-month placement to gain experience across the whole spectrum of the agricultural supply chain.

The first three students completed their course in July this year and three more have just started their placements.

During the year students are mentored by some of the UK’s most progressive farmers. They are also given an insight into the full supply chain, working with food companies that supply ingredients for McDonald’s, such as potato and fries specialist McCain.

McDonald’s says the Progressive Young Farmer Training Programme helps to kickstart young people’s careers “by providing them with the blend of farming and business acumen needed to succeed in today’s modern farming sector – from land management and animal husbandry through to marketing and IT skills”.

Charles Clack, a farmer’s son from Devon and a student at the University of Reading, says his year-long placement with McDonald’s helped him hone the commercial skills needed to run a successful farm business.

“The range of practical and business skills I’ve learned over the past year has really opened my eyes to what a career in farming is all about,” he says.

Skills strategy

Finding ways to enable more farm businesses – not just companies such as McDonald’s – to put more emphasis on practical and business skills training is an issue getting wider attention across the industry.

How to integrate skills development and professional recognition into every business – in order to increase productivity and attract new blood – was the aim of a recent Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) consultation.

The strategy argues that skills development should no longer be viewed as a compliance issue that adds cost, but as vital to improving business performance and competitiveness.

It also points out that the industry will only attract and retain staff of a high calibre if it offers them the ability to develop a career and reward people operating at a high level.

“This may be financial, but alternative incentives such as flexible working, regular weekends off and increased responsibility are all tools used to retain quality staff,” it says.

What is Bright Crop?

Bright Crop is a cross-industry initiative that aims to inspire young talent to consider a career in farming and food supply by promoting positive perceptions of agriculture and the associated sectors.

What does it do?

At the heart of the initiative is an information portal at that aims to inspire, inform and educate people about the huge range of jobs available in the farming industry. The target audience is secondary school-age students, teachers and parents.

What else is involved?

Another key goal of the initiative is to get 1,000 ambassadors by December 2014 to work with schools. These are volunteers from the food and farming industry who will work with their local schools to encourage and inform young people about agriculture as a career option. For more information email or call 020 7566 8692.

Who is behind it?

  • The scheme is being funded by a group of sponsors – AB Agri, AIC, AHDB, British Sugar, BITC, Frontier, Hutchinson’s, Natural England, NFU and NFU Mutual. FACE is the secretariat.
  • For more information about organisations mentioned in this article:
  • EDGE Apprenticeship team – 01603 881 966 or email
  • Recruitment for the Farm Forward programme takes place on an annual basis from late autumn, and the programme runs from July to July. Interested students should talk to their careers adviser and keep an eye on
  • If you are an organisation involved in helping find or train new entrants, contact

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