Educating the younger generation and embracing technology will be crucial to safeguarding the future of agriculture in the UK, a group of professionals has warned.
The approach taken towards attracting young people to pursue an education and career in farming needs to change to ensure the industry can survive, said speakers at the Central Association of Agricultural Valuers’ (CAAV) AGM on June 28. “The industry needs more degree-qualified people and highly skilled staff, as well as more continued professional development (CPD),” said Professor David Llewellyn, vice chancellor at Harper Adams University. “Solid professionals, able to deal with technology leadership skills are needed in modern farming.”
There’s a huge shift happening in agricultural business management. “There does need to be a new approach to food, the environment, climate impacts and health implications, but we need to close the skills gap and bring the best and brightest into farming – this will be as important as the food we produce for the future,” explained Prof Llewellyn.
“With a demographic dip in 18-year-olds, agriculture needs to look at ways of improving skills but also attracting those into the industry that do not have a natural affinity to it. Productivity – and profitability – is driven by education.”
There also needs to be a comprehensive approach to education throughout workers’ careers, not just in the teenage years, he said. “Education and skills run together.”
Advancing technologies mean a number of jobs could become fully automated, including tractor driving, which might see a loss of jobs. But there’s also hope that automation might protect family farms as technology could make smaller farms more financially stable. In addition, Prof Llewellyn believes co-bots, rather than robots, and labour-augmented automation could be the future. “New jobs could be created while leadership and management would need to be adapted.”
Jeremy Moody, secretary and adviser to the CAAV, said it was vital to adopt technological advances, or risk being left behind. “If we don’t pick it up, our competitors will.”
However, one of the core issues is the management of land occupation – and the latest tenancy law review could be integral to moving land into the hands of the trained. “We need the right people on the land to do the right thing with it. It doesn’t matter where land comes from, but it does matter who it goes to.”
Younger generations perceive technology differently, which could be used to attract them into agriculture, said Prof Llewellyn. With Generation Z having never lived without access to a smartphone, it’s essential they’re informed that agriculture is a technologically advanced sector in which to pursue a rewarding career. “We need to consider the attitudes of young people, because if we don’t adapt as an industry, we will not attract them.
“We have a national drive to get skills into the industry at the moment – through various channels such as AHDB and the NFU, with the idea to build a new professional agenda for farming,” said Prof Llewellyn. “So we can say to young people that agriculture is the industry they should choose as it’s professional. Education and skills need to be front and centre to fulfil our ambitions for the future. If we don’t advocate the exciting advances in the industry, then we will lose out.”