Major food industry coalition aims to bridge farming skills gap

Workers harvesting iceberg lettuce in the Fens.

Workers harvesting iceberg lettuce in the Fens. - Credit: G's Group

A food and farming industry coalition has united to kick-start a new strategy for the UK's agricultural workforce – aiming to bridge a looming skills gap and make the sector 'fit for the future'.

Skills development has been recognised as a key factor in the country's agricultural productivity gap to other nations, with research suggesting less than 35pc of UK farmers have any formal management training.

So organisations including the National Farmers Union (NFU) and Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) have joined forces with agricultural colleges and major food producers, manufacturers and retailers to inspire a 'transformation' in skills, careers, recruitment, qualifications and professional development.

Helen Woolley, currently director general of the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) has been appointed as the chair of the new skills leadership group, which aims to deliver a new agriculture and horticulture skills plan, focusing on three core work streams:

• Creating a professional framework with new qualifications relevant to the needs of employers in the future.

• Development of clear career paths and fresh approaches to recruitment.

• Mechanisms to encourage continuing professional development and business support.

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'This is the first step,' she said: 'The skills gap has not appeared overnight, it has developed over decades, which is why we need to address the downturn now more than ever to deliver Brexit with a highly skilled and professional workforce.'

The leadership group also includes Dr David Llewellyn, vice chancellor of Harper Adams University, who will lead the professional framework and education working group, and John Shropshire, of Fenland growers G's Fresh, who will chair the continued professional development and business support group.

Defra secretary Michael Gove said: 'I am glad to see industry taking the initiative to develop this much-needed skills strategy for the farming sector. This is especially relevant as we look ahead to life outside the EU's Common Agricultural Policy and the opportunity to make industry more competitive and profitable.

'I look forward to the group developing lasting solutions that work for the agriculture and horticulture industry, and equip the workforce for the future of farming.'

During the next few months, the Skills Leadership Group wants to hear from individuals and organisations who want to join this coalition and add their expertise to its work. Anyone interested in getting involved should contact


Helen Woolley – Country Land & Business Association

Lord Donald Curry of Kirkeharle CBE

Richard Longthorp OBE – AgriSkills Forum

Dr David Llewellyn – Harper Adams University

Simon Gadd – National Farmers' Union

Oliver Lee – Farmer

Jane King – AHDB

Louisa Bagshaw – Defra

Jonathan Back - Defra

Janet Swadling – Former SRUC chief executive, AHDB board member

John Shropshire OBE – chairman, G's Fresh

Beverly Dixon – group HR director, G's Fresh

Guy Smith – NFU deputy president

Matthew Naylor – managing director, Naylor Flowers

Tess Howe – AHDB

Invited universities and colleges