Sainsbury’s unveils its first class of farming apprentices to boost Britain’s chronic shortage of young farmers

Sainsbury’s first farming apprenticeship recruits began their course last week as they started to learn the skills needed to build Britain’s high-tech and innovative businesses of the future.

The UK farming industry will need 60,000 new employees by 2020 just to replace retiring farmers, as fewer and fewer young people have entered the profession in recent years.

Sainsbury’s first farming cohort spent their first week in academic classes before heading back to the farms where they will be employed as they learn for the next 20 months.

19-year-old Rob Johnson from Oakham, the county town of Rutland in the East Midlands, has worked on a poultry farm for the last two years and is happy to have the opportunity to gain a formal qualification.

‘I got the job at Belton Layers from my brother. He had been there for some time and then decided to go off to train as an undertaker so a position became vacant. Right from the off I just loved it.

‘I had always intended to be in farming, growing up in farming country with lots of people I knew already working on the land in some way. I love being outside and farming is a brilliant career.

‘The farmer I work for is a Sainsbury’s supplier and he received an email from them asking if he would take an apprentice for the new agriculture apprenticeship scheme they were starting. He immediately asked me if I would like to do it, and I thought it would be a great opportunity to learn new techniques.

‘In the future I would like to see myself as a manager working with poultry. There is so much to running a poultry farm and every day there is a different challenge. If this apprenticeship pans out the way I think it will, I will definitely look at moving on to a level 3 qualification once I have this one under my belt.’

James Colclough, 16, aims to be the fourth generation of dairy farmers in his family and is serving his apprenticeship on his dad’s 500 acre farm in Sandbach, Cheshire.

‘The Sainsbury’s apprenticeship is an amazing opportunity for me and this kind of hands-on learning interests me so much more than the local agricultural college,’ said James.

‘Bank Farm was started by my great, great granddad and I’ve been working with our 350 milking cows for as long as I can remember. My first job was gathering in the cows at night with a buggy when I was really young.

I’ve always wanted to farm and I wanted to learn about as many aspects of this industry as possible. If I can bring new ideas into the business and the latest technology, then that’s what we will need as we go forward to compete.’

Sainsbury’s is the first retailer to launch an apprenticeship scheme for horticulture and agriculture and is giving young people from around the UK aged 16 and above the chance to work with some of the retailer’s most progressive food suppliers, many of whom use the latest innovations and technology in the sector. They will learn how to manage digital infrastructure of glasshouse computer systems and managing crop growth through the use of drones and smart phone apps.

Every 12 weeks, the apprentices will visit other farms taking part in the scheme to learn about different types of farming.

The new recruits also attended a blogging masterclass taken by AgriChat’s Simon Haley, who runs the biggest blogging farming community which brings farmers together from around the world to share best practice and ideas.

During their apprenticeship, they will write a blog which will be published on the Sainsbury’s website telling about their farming experiences as they learn.

About the Sainsbury’s apprenticeship programme

Sainsbury’s have joined forces with Staffline Agriculture to offer a range of industry leading Apprenticeship Schemes aimed specifically at our primary supply chains in Horticulture and Agriculture. Through this scheme apprentices will gain real hands on practical experience and see the whole supply chain from seed to supply, field to fork and work on real issues that face our Horticulture or Agriculture supply chains throughout the UK.

All apprenticeships will be advertised on the National Apprenticeship website: or contact for more information.

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