Farming opinion: Agricultural sector ‘must inspire the next generation’
- Credit: Archant
Adam Henson, farmer and rural television presenter, spoke to Fram Farmers’ Next Generation Group about the need to get the message out that farmers are doing the right thing
Farming and the wider agricultural industry is moving forward at such a pace that it needs to attract bright, talented, innovative and forward-looking individuals with a passion for our sector.
The public has been left behind in their perception of farming and that needs to change. Honesty and integrity are paramount to consumers who purchase what UK agriculture produces, so they need to know that we’re doing the right thing.
The farming sector has failed to communicate that message and the results are now evident. One or two generations now have no connection with farming or understanding of it, no idea about where their food comes from, nor how it is produced. In a country which produces some of the best food in the world, to the highest standards in the world, the farming industry should be shouting that message from the rooftops.
To help achieve that objective and ensure that the adults of the future have the knowledge to make informed decisions about their choice of career and the food they eat, I am driving forward an initiative to make available a GSCE in agriculture. It is vital that we ensure that those involved in education understand how exciting the agricultural sector is, the wide range of professions it involves and the excellent career opportunities which it offers.
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To operate to a high standard and produce the high-quality food consumers expect, while remaining financially sustainable, farming businesses must be profitable. Running a successful business requires exacting planning, minute attention to detail and the ability to continually identify even the smallest incremental improvements to make it more efficient and sustainable.
It is vital to add value, where possible selling on contract to provide more predictable returns in increasingly volatile markets and developing long-term relationships with suppliers so that they understand our businesses, aspirations and requirements.
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Farms also need to be flexible, become better at adapting to change and planning for the future. The new 4000-tonne grain/straw store and sheep building we have constructed on the farm was designed so that if, for instance, producing cereals became unprofitable and there was no requirement to store grain the building could be adapted for other uses.
To remain sustainable and thrive in the future farmers must be able to look beyond farming. Simply improving the efficiency of what we do now is unlikely to be enough. We need to consider how to develop additional income streams, identify what the market wants and then work back from that, not the other way around as has generally been the case in the past.
Exciting times lie ahead for businesses that position themselves correctly.
Adam was addressing Fram Farmers’ Next Generation Group, a business/social forum for 18-30-something members of the country’s foremost farmer-owned purchasing and marketing co-operative. At the meeting, which was organised with Lloyds Bank for whom he is Farming Ambassador, Adam spoke passionately about his love for the industry, conservation and the countryside in the relaxed style which has become his trademark.
Together with business partner Duncan Andrews, Adam Henson farms 4000 acres of arable land, including the tenancy of the 650ha estate at Kineton near Cheltenham in Gloucestershire which he took over from his father, Joe, in 1999. Long-term friends, they also run the Farm Park that Joe started in 1971, now known as The Adam Henson Cotswold Farm Park, which attracts 150,000 visitors annually.