East Anglia: Farming needs more tech-savvy young people to join the industry
23:44 30 June 2014
Our ability to feed ourselves is at risk amid a shortage of new technology-minded farmers joining the industry, MPs have warned.
East Anglian farming bosses have welcomed a report by the Commons’ food, environment and rural affairs committee, which has called for a clearer government strategy and funding plans to get young people and others to consider a career in agriculture.
The wide-ranging report into food security in the UK has also called for supermarkets to shorten supply chains to reduce threats of disruption, and for UK farmers to extend the season in which it produces fresh fruit and vegetables.
During its inquiry the committee was told that the average age of a farmer was currently 60. In its report out today, the committee warned that our food security depends on a “vibrant, innovative and professional UK farming sector”, which needs a “regular inflow of new entrants to the sector”.
“Farming in the UK does not have this,” the MPs said, adding that efforts must be made to encourage new entrants who are willing and able to take advantage of new technologies so the sector was “modern and competitive”.
While MPs acknowledged that the government was looking at ways to work with the industry, it called for clarity about what funding would be made available. Ken Proctor, Norfolk’s National Farmers’ Union chairman, said there were large hurdles to overcome in getting people into the industry.
“You might not have a little farm any more and work your way up. There are some very technical people needed. You can’t just put anybody on a tractor any more.
“They have to be skilled people. If you took a young person on to drive a tractor now, there are health and safety issues and there is an awful lot of lone working. Farms are getting bigger and bigger.”
Mr Proctor, who has a dairy farm in Shipdham, near Dereham, said that in his sector they needed “fairly intelligent lads” to run the big units.
“At the end of the day people need to be fed. Farming cannot be allowed to disintegrate. With the population increasing worldwide, lots more people are needed to be involved in production.
“It is something we have got to tackle as an industry. We have got to find a way around it. If the average age is 60, it will be 70 in a few years’ time if it is not done.”
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