This month I went to the wedding of a good friend of mine and her new dairy mad husband in Lancashire.
It was great to have the opportunity to chat to farmers from outside the South East about farming issues that are affecting them. We swiftly moved on to the importance of young people in the industry and how tricky it can be to crack when you haven’t had the opportunity to grow up on a farm.
So this month I have been chatting to young farmers from around the country to see what advice they can offer any readers that are hoping to pursue a career in farming.
Find your place
So you’ve decided that you want to get into farming for one reason or another. But farming is such a diverse industry, from breeding strawberries, to milking cows twice a day.
Every part is as important as the next, and it may sound obvious but finding what most interests you is a good starting point in building a successful career.
If you’re not from a farming family, getting yourself known can be one of the hardest parts. If your father runs a 300 strong flock of Romney’s on the marsh, chances are you can go to market and people will know you.
But if he doesn’t, you’ll have to plough your own furrow. Go to livestock markets and agricultural shows, chat to people and ask questions.
Young dairy farmer, Sam Adams, from West Sussex said: “My biggest advice would be go to conferences and open days, stand up and ask questions and always let people know you are looking for opportunities.”
Farmers are a friendly bunch and if one thing is for sure, they love to talk about farming! There is no such thing as a stupid question, so get asking.
Social media is also a pretty great tool these days for farmers and if you’re on Twitter you will no doubt be aware of the strong farming e-community that has developed over the years. It’s totally free and you will learn and debate more than you ever imagined. If you’re offered the chance to learn a new skill or travel somewhere new – go for it.
Work for free
This might not sound very appealing, especially to young people who are trying to save every penny they can for that new car part or a lads holiday to Magaluf. But even if it is one day a week, offer your labour to a farmer in exchange for an insight into agriculture.
Ask if she or he can teach you how to turn hay or shear a sheep. Even now while I’m working full time, I try to help out on farms as much as possible because it allows me to gather new skills that I know will help me in future. Think of the short term pain for long term gains.
Join a young farmers club
With a membership of more than 23,000 aged between 10 and 26 years around the country, joining your local group will enable you to get to know farmers in the area, learn more about the industry, and make great friends along the way.
The National Federation of Young Farmers Clubs says: “You don’t have to be one to be one. In fact you don’t even need to own a pair of wellies. Joining your local Young Farmers Club could be the gateway to a whole world of new opportunities. From meeting friends you will keep for life, to discovering a skill you never even knew you had, there is so much more to Young Farmers than wellies and tractors!”
Further your education
Agricultural courses are a great way to build up the basic knowledge needed to pursue a career in agriculture.
If you haven’t had much experience on a farm it’s probably best not to jump straight into a degree, but consider a shorter course at a local agricultural college where you can build up practical skills. Here you will most likely learn the basics such as tractor driving, lambing and milking. Some colleges also offer apprenticeships which are invaluable in giving you both industry experience and a qualification at the end.
Lawry Taylor, who works for Shorts Agricultural Services, said: “I’m not from a farming background at all and progressed into it through two apprenticeships.” Laurie has since gone on to be a vital part of the contracting team and has even won awards for his ploughing.
University often seems like the next obvious step for some people, and if there’s a specific career goal you have in mind and you know a degree will help – great. But going to university for the hell of it will leave you in a lot of debt. You can have just as much fun at young farmers balls for a lot less money!
Take every opportunity
Great things never came from comfort zones, or so the saying goes. So if you’re offered an opportunity that quite frankly terrifies you, go for it.
A couple of years ago I was invited for an all expenses paid trip to Scotland with a bunch of people I had never met. In the build up to it I spent a lot of time thinking up excuses in my head. But when my plane tickets arrived I realised I couldn’t back out and it turned out to be one of the best weekends of my life.
Since then I have continued to push myself, working on farms around the country and taking more impromptu visits with strangers and it’s only ever led to good things.
Be the best you can be
This may sound obvious, but an employer will notice the small things like punctuality and how tidy you leave a yard.
Tom Martindale, a pig farmer from Hampshire, said: “Always do the job on hand to the best of your ability – remember you’re building yourself a reputation in the industry.”
While Sophie Barnes – a new entrant sheep farmer who is currently travelling the globe to pursue a career in sheep genetics – said: “My first lambing job I was ‘mucker out extraordinaire’ because all I seemed to do was clean out pens. But I learned so much about hard work and how to do whatever someone asks of you. I’d gone from noone to someone who was respected just for being good at shovelling muck! It inspired me to do more in life.” Before this, Sophie had no background in farming.
Start small, dream big
Rome wasn’t built in a day. If you expect to be driving that brand new quadtrac on your first day, prepare to be disappointed.
You may also never have the funds to buy your own farm, especially in the South East where land is fast diminishing and prices are sky high. But there are plenty of other amazing opportunities out there from tenancy agreements, to share farming, to farm managers’ roles.
If you’re into livestock and have the resources, taking on a couple of orphan lambs can act as crash course in livestock. This will help you to develop an eye for detail when caring for vulnerable stock and could give you one up on a fellow applicant in that lambing assistant role.
There are also lots of bursaries and competitions available to support young people in farming, from winning a Land Rover for a year to being funded to travel abroad and develop your farming knowledge. Apply for as many as you can, they are there to help people just like you.
And probably most importantly, never let people tell you you can’t. Accept you will make mistakes, these are not setbacks- they are there to help you learn.
If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again until that farming dream is yours.