December 20 2013 Latest news:
Wednesday, September 18, 2013
Being a west Norfolk or north-east Cambridgeshire farmworker used to conjure up images of labouring among the crops and looking after the animals.
Yet according to a one of Europe’s largest growers of fresh vegetables. which has sites in Chatteris, Isleham, Long Sutton and Butterwick, farming has changed.
Today, farming is still hard graft – but according to Andrew Burgess, director of agriculture at Produce World, it is now a vastly more skilled profession, where workers are expected to operate the most modern technology and the latest machines to monitor and treat the crops so they grow to their maximum yield.
As such, Mr Burgess believes there are ample more opportunities for people to enjoy a well-paid, highly-skilled technical career in farming, either by using or building the equipment.
But as his company continues to feature in the BBC’s flagship Harvest documentary, to show what modern day farming is really like, he warned: “We have not had enough young talent coming through.
“I think farming has evolved. The image people have of it is completely out of date. It is so much more than they realise. It is an incredibly hi-tech industry and there is even more technology coming down the track. One day we might even go to driverless tractors.
“There is a massive opportunity for clever young people to make a really good career in farming. I’m quite passionate about how we need the next generation of clever young people.
“It is no longer a low-paid job – it is paying good wages and we need skilled people.”
Those skilled technicians have never been needed more than ever in the past year as Produce World and other farmers continue to recover from the long, wet summer of 2012.
Although the casual observer might think this year’s near-perfect summer would provide the ideal environment for crops to flourish, Mr Burgess said the previous year’s heavy rainfall has unquestionably had an impact 12 months on.
“We’ve grown exactly the same crops in terms of acreage, but the performance has been a challenge,” he said, adding that was where machinery had been brought in to help monitor where things might be going wrong.
Key to the problem, he said, was the condition of the soil, with the heavy rainfall changing the soil structure and making it more difficult to grow crops.
That is made particularly difficult when heavy machinery runs on wet ground, as that compacts the soil and makes the ground harder.
“As a business, we’ve deliberately spread our growing across a wider area and different soil types to try to reduce the risk,” Mr Burgess said.
Adding to the problem has been the unpredictability in the weather, he said.
“If it was wet every year, we’d be prepared for it being wet every year,” he said. “However, the unpredictability and extremes we’re seeing makes it more difficult.”
Although Produce World has fared well in the circumstances, Mr Burgess estimated that the East Anglian farming industry has lost around 10pc of its crops this year – because it is still playing catch up to the summer of 2012. “We’re still paying the price this year for last year,” he said.
One of the reasons Mr Burgess said Produce World agreed to take part in the current BBC documentary was because “we wanted people to really understand what goes into growing their food and how professional and modern today’s farming industry is”.
He added: “We need to shout more as a British farming industry about the good things we are doing in this country.
“We are truly passionate about growing and supplying the best quality fresh vegetables and we hope the Harvest series will help to educate consumers on what goes into getting the produce from field to fork.
“It was an enjoyable experience working with the crew throughout this whole process and we hope our contribution will help to raise the profile of British farming.”
Produce World was founded by the Burgess family in 1898 and supplies root vegetables, potatoes, brassicas, alliums, and organic produce to leading retailers, food service and manufacturing customers.
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