More people could look forward to a day’s work

It might sound like a cliché, but I look forward to going to work in the morning.

The combination of working for a friendly, approachable farmer, using modern well-maintained machinery and being based in a beautiful part of rural Suffolk means I thoroughly enjoy my job.

I always knew that I’d do this for a living when I was older and, even though my career has sidetracked at times (I’ve had a spell working for Waitrose and a stint teaching at an agricultural college), I’m now back doing what I love. The fact is, I missed the practical side when I wasn’t doing it. Life’s too short to do something if it isn’t making you happy.

The job satisfaction can be huge, whether you’re helping a heifer calving, combining a field of wheat on a glorious summer day or building a barn that’ll be used for decades to come.

Working outside with the land and nature is important to me, too – how many other people get to work in an environment that changes daily and where they can appreciate wildlife like we can?

The varied work load generally means no two days are the same and this ensures farm workers gather a huge range of skills developed through their diverse role. I also really enjoy the fact that my boss gives me a fair bit of responsibility.

I do worry, though, that not enough other young people are choosing farm work as a career. Long, unsociable hours are par for the course in this industry, but this is putting lots of new recruits off. The strain of balancing family life and farm work has led to many of my friends finding alternative careers. A work/life balance has to be achieved.

There’s so much more choice nowadays and people often get lured away from agriculture. Some people I know have moved out of this sector into HGV driving where, working fewer hours, they can earn £25,000 or £30,000 a year.

Farmers need to think about offering other benefits to make up for the disincentive of long hours. And, for people in their 20s (actually for people of all ages) pay is the biggest single factor. Although the package may seem attractive (perhaps there’s even a house and a truck thrown in), there’s no getting away from the fact the average wage for a farm worker should be higher.

Perhaps the answer is for workers and bosses to sit down and review pay on a one-to-one basis, rather than relying on national pay scales. Factors such as performance and loyalty can then be factored in. Farmers want to hang onto good staff, after all, so it’s beneficial for everyone.

I’ve had the privilege of working on some great farms, and some not-so-great farms. But on each one, I learned a lot.

The better farms knew how to treat their staff well, and not always with huge gestures. It might just be tea at the combine, or a day’s shooting on the estate, but these farms are the ones that tend to hang on to their workers.

If I was a farmer and a couple of my employees were in their mid 50s, I would be seriously concerned about where their replacements were coming from.

It’s a huge issue that the whole farming industry needs to address quickly.

After all, I’d like to see lots of other people have the opportunity to do what I do – wake up in the morning and look forward to going to work.

Ben Martin, 27, works on a farm near Sudbury in Suffolk

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Nick’s Notes

Nick NotesBen may be an unfamiliar face to you – but I wanted to give this column space to someone in his 20s working on a farm, as such people often go unheard. We need to stress to youngsters the many positive aspects of careers in agriculture. How many other jobs, after all, can offer so much variety – not just within a year or a month, but even within a single working day.

Nick Padwick – Guest Editor