The farming industry has called on the next government to throw its weight behind skills for farmers and growers after a national audit ranked agriculture 25th out of 27 for its future economic significance.
The NFU said the National Strategic Skills Audit for England – the first from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills – risks turning off new entrants to agriculture and horticulture at a time when they are needed most.
Speaking on behalf of partners within the AgriSkills Forum, they said the Government’s own Food 2030 vision highlighted the need to increase investment and the impact of education, training and research.
Additionally, the major role that British farmers and growers will play towards meeting the looming food production challenge has not been taken into account.
NFU deputy president Meurig Raymond, and chairman of the AgriSkills Forum, said: “We have been pleased by support from DEFRA for the launch of the AgriSkills report back in February but we need to see continued commitment from DEFRA and the Department for Business Innovation and Skills, once a new government is formed, to take the industry’s training and recruitment needs seriously.
“I was extremely disappointed that the government’s ‘New Industries, New Jobs’ framework and UKCES gave agriculture and horticulture such low priority. This is particularly strange given the major strategic role farmers and growers do and will play in securing the nation’s food security.
“This demonstrates a lack of understanding of the importance of the food supply chain in the UK, which employs some 3.6m people and incorporates the country’s largest manufacturing sector, contributing £155bn to the GDP.
“Portraying the industry as low-skilled and of low priority could colour consumer opinion and jeopardise future funding for much-needed skills and training. Lantra has estimated that 60,000 new workers will be needed by farming across the UK in the next ten years. Training and investment is crucial if we are to achieve all that is expected of our farmers and growers.”
The industry-led AgriSkills Strategy (launched 10 February 2010) aims to equip farmers and growers with the right skills to deliver increased food production and tackle environmental challenges.
Simon Bainbridge Northumberland
Simon Bainbridge, a tenant of the National Trust and an owner occupier who farms 650 hectares of mixed upland ground in the heart of central Northumberland, understands that training doesn’t just mean attending a college course.
He recently visited Ireland to explore different approaches to livestock farming and to discover new ways of reducing costs, increasing trading opportunities and organic farming.
Mr Bainbridge said: “Training is needed to improve ourselves whether it be on the rugby field or on the farm. Modern farming involves long hours, often working alone so opportunities to mix with other like-minded people have to be good.
“By visiting The Grange Beef Research I learned how to maximise beef production from grass which will ultimately increase my profit margins. By visiting this research centre I now feel much more confident about my organic conversion and it will certainly progress some of my farming practices.”
John Barrett Hamblys, Devon
John Barrett, chairman of new and used farm machinery business Hamblys, is an advocate for training. He believes that you need the right people in the right jobs with the right skills; by growing your people you’ll grow your profits.
“Training helps your business in a lot of different ways. It can keep employees loyal and enthusiastic in their work. Our staff are expected to do a lot of training and we expect them to perform well. There is no point taking someone on unless it’s for the benefit of the employee and the company and as a result we have very low staff turnover: people due to retire soon have been with us since they left school.
“Ultimately, everything you do in business is about customer satisfaction because then you get more business and more customers, enabling you to make a profit. That is why I think investment in training and development is crucial.”