Why farm? For the challenge – and the daily sense of freedom
The Women’s Food and Farming Union debated how to make agriculture more attractive to young people when it met at Bicton College this month. Ben Rogers offers some answers.
The pay is not the best, the work is hard, the hours are sometimes long, and you don't get much thanks – so if someone told you they wanted to become a farmer you would probably say: "You're having a laugh."
A lot of my friends thought I was mad when I told them, and I must admit there have been times during the last few years that I might have agreed with them, but not any more.
It was always going to be the job for me – you see farming is in my blood. I'm following in the footsteps of my father and grandfather. We have farmed in West Charleton for more than 60 years. It doesn't sound a lot when you say it, but when you consider Winston Churchill was Prime Minister when my Granny and Granddad first started ploughing up bits of South Devon, you get a sense of how long it actually is.
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So what makes farming so enjoyable?
Well first I feel genuinely proud to be doing a job that plays a small part in helping to feed the world. Food production is vital for everyone. It's something every person requires on a daily basis. Without thousands of people like me, the world simply couldn't operate. That's not spin, that's fact.
The second reason is all about freedom.The freedom to get up in the morning and know you're not tied to working in an office or sitting on a production line. The freedom to walk outside, breathe the fresh air, take in the views, and experience the seasons first hand. Some of my friends work in offices and when we meet in the pub in the evening, they usually haven't a clue what the weather has been like during the day.
So how do you become a farmer if you haven't already got one foot in the door like me?
Well there are agriculture colleges that offer degrees relevant to farming. These can give you the background you need to get started. A degree is not essential if you want to become a farmer, but it can be really useful.
I studied at Duchy College, Stoke Climsland. I started in September 2007 with a foundation degree in agriculture. This was a full-time two-year course, but I was only actually at college three days a week. This was great for me as I could still keep my hand in on the farm at home.
The course had several different modules, and the one which was most beneficial for me was crops. Coming from an arable farm, that module was always going to be useful.
The knowledge I gained is being used every day on the farm, even if it is fairly basic stuff. My understanding of pests and diseases has also improved since the course, and this again is being used regularly back on the farm.
Most of the skills I learned at Duchy were picked up out in the fields. That was one aspect I really enjoyed, the balance between class time and field time. I also enjoyed the strategic development module, which will prove very useful in the future if we decide to carry out any major changes on the farm.
After the two-year foundation degree I took up the option of the honours degree in rural business management. This was only a one-year course, with my previous two counting towards the final grade. I was aware that the third year was likely to be less practical and more coursework-based, but I was going to be learning new skills all the time, so I decided to go for it.
There were ten of us on my course in the first two years, from all over the South West. We all got on really well and became a very close group, all willing to help each other out. After the first couple of weeks it felt as if I had been there years.
Before the global economic downturn, a lot of young people who had grown up on farms went into other industries – but now that those industries, like construction, are going through bad times, more and more see the land-based sector as an industry to be in again.
With the world's population reaching seven billion in 2011, some forecasters are predicting it will reach around 10 billion in 2070. Farming is always going to be in demand; the land available to produce food is always going to roughly stay the same, so farmers are going to face a massive challenge and it is a challenge people like me and others who go to colleges like Duchy are looking forward to taking on.
So you want to become a farmer? No, you're not having a laugh.