“A lot of the work that goes into producing our food has moved out of the field and into the lab, the workshop or the office.”
Despite the central role it plays in the lives of every human being on this planet, agriculture is an industry that often goes unseen and unheard, and as a society we are increasingly unable to connect the food on our plates with the people, organisations and processes that put it there.
It is a disconnect that is partly the result of changes in the structure of agricultural production in the UK over the last 100 years or so. A series of mechanical, bio-chemical and technological ‘revolutions’ have made it possible for larger quantities of food to be produced by comparatively fewer farmers, which has meant that a lot of the work that goes into producing our food has moved out of the field and into the lab, the workshop or the office, in a wide range of supportive and specialist roles.
The reduction in the number of farmers has also effected a cultural change, as there are fewer people, including key influencers such as teachers and parents, who are connected to farming and are knowledgeable about the sector and the opportunities it can offer to young people. In the absence of facts, outdated perceptions and stereotypes are given a free rein, leading to the belief amongst young people that agriculture cannot offer a rewarding career.
“There is a diverse, dynamic and challenging industry that is actively looking for talented young people to join it, yet the majority of those young people have no idea that it exists”
When I was at school I enjoyed all my subjects and, because I got good grades, it was generally assumed that I was destined for an ‘academic’ career. Despite the fact that I also had a pretty clear idea that I wanted to be a teacher, I would often tell my friends how much I wanted to live on a farm. It wasn’t until I graduated from university with a degree in English and Education, having abandoned the idea of teaching, that I began to think again about agriculture, and it was another two years after that before I enrolled on a Graduate Diploma in Agriculture. I certainly don’t regret taking my first degree and I think I have found my niche working across education and farming, but my experience demonstrates how little opportunity there was for my cautious interest to be cultivated.
When it comes to careers, it is unhelpful to talk about ‘good’ and ‘bad’ decisions when career pathways are rarely straightforward and most experiences are ultimately constructive ones. But we might talk about ‘informed’ and ‘uninformed’ decisions. If I had known more about agriculture when I was at school, if I had known that there were ‘academic’ routes and destinations within the industry, would I have made a different choice? How many young people are out there right now, some certain of what they want to do, others unsure, who would benefit from knowing more about the opportunities that are available to them, in order to make an informed decision?
“…fewer people are knowledgeable about the sector and the opportunities it can offer to young people.”
This is why I believe it is time to start talking about careers in agriculture. There is a diverse, dynamic and challenging industry that is actively looking for talented young people to join it, yet the majority of those young people have no idea that it exists, and many of those that do believe it isn’t for them. Currently, their choices are being limited by lack of awareness and outdated stereotypes, but if these barriers could be removed, and the number of options increased, more young people would be able to make informed decisions to identify and pursue rewarding career paths.
Lauren Weller is the Networks and Communications Coordinator for Bright Crop.
Food Economy Task Force Reports:
- Full Report: Leading Food 4.0: Growing Business-University Collaboration for the UK’s Food Economy
- Summary Report: Leading Food 4.0: Growing Business-University Collaboration for the UK’s Food Economy
- Work Stream 1 Report: Research into Attitudes and Perceptions of Careers in the Agriculture and Food Sector
- Work Stream 2 Report: Science and Translation of Innovation in the Food Economy
- Work Stream 3 Report: Landscape Collaboration for Sustainable Land Use