Friday, September 14, 2012

GUEST POST The difficulty of getting started in farming

Joshua Metcalfe suggests some ways of making things easier for the next generation of farmers

People in developing countries depend heavily on agriculture for their livelihoods, yet are increasingly challenged in their ability to produce sufficient food for their families and for markets. As the world’s population continues to grow, expected to reach nine billion by 2050, nearly 1 billion people remain undernourished and by 2050 farmers will need to double crop and meat production to meet demand.

More volatile and extreme weather, pests and disease only exacerbate the problem. Investment is needed to attract fresh blood, and increase access – access to natural resources, knowledge and information, technologies, research and extension services - to name just a few.

Although it is still an important industry, farming seems to have fallen out with the younger generations in Britain. In an attempt to move the population forward past governments and the entertainment industry have sown the seeds of professional career pride. We are born to fill a pair of smart office shoes, born to sit behind a desk and type away for 50 years until we are finally granted permission to retire. This is not a life I’d choose, which drives me to find an alternative: farming.

The agricultural industry is one of the most difficult to venture into. The very nature of the sector deters most due to the long hours required, the physical labour and the endless depths of knowledge needed.

But the sector needs new blood. With the average age of farmers being well over 60, 20 years down the line their boots will have to be filled. Our farms must keep up with the growing demand of our domestic population as well as that from further afield in Europe. What astonishes me is that nobody seems interested in following in their footsteps. The process of which could be made much easier by calculated government intervention.

Funding is the biggest issue. Enormous initial set up costs can look very ugly on one’s bank statement. Plus, even when the business is established, there is no guarantee of money coming in as any number of problems can factor in and can easily destroy livelihoods.

Interest free overdrafts could be provided to larger sums than usual for first generation farmers, offering them a strong financial wind-block for the times when hatches must be battened down. Banks can go further in assisting by offering low interest long term business loans to prospecting farmers, and if not the banks then the Government. Education comes under the umbrella of funding. The vast majority of courses at agricultural college have no government funding available, and at £10,000 a year in some cases, it leaves the hopeful farmer stuck between a rock and a very hard place.

Access to land is another tall hurdle presented to the budding farmer. The current nature of business and practice within the sector dictates that well-established and successful farms become greedy and lease or buy more and more land each year amassing truly enormous estates. Farmers need to understand that snatching opportunity away from starters will prove to be detrimental to the industry they passionately and proudly work in. Local councils must stop selling their tenant farms; they must be reserved for new starters.

One statistic that exemplifies this great land grab comes from the dairy sector: In 1992 there were 22,000 dairy farms active; today that number has dropped to 6000. This huge reduction is indicative of a trend that only recently has bucked; that trend being near industrialisation of the sector, estranging it from its organic roots in the local community.

Encouragement is essential. This will require government intervention and further regulation by bodies such as the NFU. Codes of practice in business need to be introduced and adhered to by the established farms. Funding must be made available to budding farmers. Assistance must be offered but it is also imperative that it is not made easy.

The lifestyle of a farmer is one of the most demanding and acquiring the means to instigate your venture into the industry must be equally as demanding; but it must be made available. The British agricultural industry is the most advanced of its kind in the world and it must have a future. With good forward thinking, intervention and assistance it can long continue to be as productive and profitable as it has always been.

Joshua Metcalfe blogs at I Want to be a Farmer. You can also follow him on Twitter.

1 comment:

farmergwyn said...


By the NFU?

No thanks!