Young farmers: millennials crucial to farming’s future

NatWest today released a new report revealing that millennial farmers are facing serious, unnecessary challenges impacting the entire industry. The number of young people entering the sector continues to fall, and those already in the sector can’t grow and diversify their farms. The report calls for a more joined-up, cross government, farming sector and finance framework to ensure this economic potential doesn’t remain untapped.

Working with an independent economic analyst, the report, Harvesting the future for young farmers, is based on a landmark study of over 500 young and potential new entrant farmers in Britain combined with insight and analysis of the future farming economic scenarios in the UK. The study revealed key challenges to entering and succeeding in the industry:

‘Dead man’s shoes’ syndrome – limited succession opportunities, often combined with the complexity of family dynamics and intergenerational issues, pose a significant challenge for young people seeking a career in farming.

Inability to embrace new farming models – despite 20% of young farmers surveyed stating that they are looking for new ways to access farming such as share farming, with ever larger farms across the UK, this is proving difficult.

Access to funding and varying levels of business skills – highlighted as obstacles to investment and growth opportunities, with 36% of survey respondents saying they did not have access to sufficient advice and resources to develop their businesses.

However, the research findings also show that these millennial farmers hold a huge economic potential and are driving significant enterprise trends in the agricultural sector. According to the report, almost 20,000 new diversification projects could be delivered by young farmers, generating £11,900 in additional income per farm.

The report identified a number of key drivers that reinforce these entrepreneurial dynamics and help improve productivity and profitability:
Innovation and technology – highly skilled tech savvy new entrants are finding innovative ways of working – from the adoption of drones for monitoring crops to the electronic identification of livestock (EID).

New forms of funding – Entrepreneurial young farmers are tapping in to new opportunities such as crowdfunding.

Diversification – from leisure & tourism, renewables, to glamping and bee keeping, diversification is generating additional income. The research found that a considerable proportion of young farmers has already diversified their businesses and 52% have plans to expand their operations in new ways, with the majority envisaging launching these in the next two years.

With increased market volatility and uncertainty post Brexit, the report calls for a more joined-up, cross government, farming sector and finance framework to ensure this economic potential doesn’t remain untapped. In particular, NatWest calls for a new Cabinet Committee, one that is supported by a Better Brexit Farming Strategy Taskforce.

Ian Burrow, Head of Agriculture at NatWest, said: “Millennial farmers are a high tech, high skilled, highly motivated group who hold a realistic picture of farming in their heads and want a career on the land. They are however, seriously constrained in a number of ways. With Brexit further heightening these challenges and increasing uncertainty, it is important we act now. Unless additional investment is secured, it is unlikely that the economic potential these young people hold will be unlocked. Banks, government, families, and communities need to come together to ensure today’s young farmers receive the support they deserve.”

Eddie Andrew who runs dairy farm “Our Cow Molly” in Sheffield, said: “This report shines a light on many of the challenges we’ve experienced first-hand in our farming business. We have had to forge new ways of working to survive and have successfully diversified our business, but the reality is that many farmers are really struggling so there aren’t enough examples of successful enterprises to inspire young farmers. I think that beyond solutions to increase profitability and productivity, everyone from families to government should place a little more confidence in young farmers to enable them to realise their potential.”

The report sets out a full action plan to address the needs of young farmers, designed to enable them to realise their goals by helping to remove many of the obstacles and barriers they are currently facing.

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