More than 50,000 skilled new farmers will be required over the next decade. Yet, according to sector skills council Lantra, only a tiny fraction of people employed in the UK’s farming industry today are younger than 25 - just 10 per cent.
So, last year, McDonald’s of all people have launched what they’re calling ‘a progressive new training programme’ - offering three young people the opportunity to experience work throughout their supply chain, from the farm and slaughterhouse to the processing plant, chip factory and restaurant. Now in the final week of the scheme, the chosen trio are serving in McDonald’s, discussing why they decided to go into the business behind burgers and fries, and perhaps even hoping to inspire a new generation of agriculturalists.
The aim of the scheme is to help young people kick-start careers in the agricultural industry by equipping them with a blend of farming and business know-how. A combination of skills is vital for advancement in the modern farming sector, as trainee Chris Fox, 21, understands. “I doubt there are many people out there who have experienced work in the industry as a whole. I’m not saying we’re experts now, but we have at least tried everything in the process”, he says.
Despite the need for a next generation of enthusiastic farmers, many young people fail to consider farming a viable career move. “It’s almost like ‘you’re in it or you’re not’. I know that sounds awful, but we’re all privileged to come from family farms. Very few people from a non-farming background are in farming. If you want to do it you have to be passionate about it. It’s not 9-5, it’s never 9-5!”, explains Chris.
Warren Anderson, VP of McDonald’s UK supply chain, notes that over half of UK adults do actually consider how food is produced when deciding which products to buy. Explaining the motive behind his company’s initiative, he said: “People are now more interested and curious about where their food comes from than ever before. Successful farmers today need an exceptional understanding of the entire process. We need to ensure we support the next generation of passionate food producers, and help them set up and run successful farm businesses in the future.”
Charles Clack, another 21-year-old trainee, realises that farming is an unconventional route. “If you go to school and get the grades, farming’s not considered an academic, or professional, thing to do. That’s completely wrong because there’s so much to farming, from running a business to understanding the animals’ health. What’s more, farming’s a true commitment- it’s not a job but a way of life.”
With money a leading concern among students, young farmer Christina Ford, 22, believes that more careers advice and support is needed. “It’s hard to just go out and buy a farm unless you’re going to inherit one. It’s tricky to get a foot in the door in community farms and work yourself up to managerial level. There needs to be more encouragement in the form of apprenticeships as there aren’t many out there at the moment. Getting the message across that there are so many different aspects to farming is important,” she argues.
Milly Wastie, chairman of the National Federation of Young Farmers’ Clubs, agrees that raising awareness of what farming actually involves is key to encouraging more young people to take up the profession. She says that ‘we desperately need to attract more young people to work in agriculture’, but that they often ‘aren’t aware of what working in farming actually involves’.
“There’s no better way to get young people excited about farming than showing them the whole supply chain from field to customer and giving them the experience to serve customers in restaurants too.”
So after returning to university to finish their agricultural degrees, what’s next for the three young farmers? After some deliberation, Chris plans to move back home to work on the family farm with his dad. “I wasn’t sure when I started the placement but now I am- it’s where I want to be”, he said. Charles hopes to gain experience of how different farming systems work abroad in order to return to the UK with fresh ideas, while science-minded Christina is considering a career in genetics or research.
Proof then, that there’s more to a career in the great outdoors than you may have previously thought.