Much is spoken about the need to reeducate careers advisers, to inspire bright and sparkly minds to the fresh produce sector and sadly there is such a lot of chat and not always the right kind of action.
Until 10 March that is, because the wonderful team at Produce Business – who already bring us their excellent student mentoring programme as part of the London Produce Show – have put their money where the broader produce industry have said it was needed – in a cross sector, national fresh careers fair.
The inaugural event was a resounding success: Tommy Leighton’s team had travelled the length and breadth of the country visiting schools and colleges who deliver any form of landbased or plant science course and encouraged them to bring their students to meet some of the top guns of the produce industry. More than 40 companies were on hand to talk about further and higher education opportunities, graduate placement schemes, recruitment, careers in produce and the availability of specific funding for any of them interested in our sector.
There were some great opportunities on offer, a wealth of information available from colleges, produce businesses and representative bodies and no shortage of bright, sparkly minds considering our sector. There was also a trio of produce dragons on hand to hear candidates pitch their ideas for our sector with an iPad as the prize for the top pitch, they were treated to some wonderful (and wacky) ideas for our industry, visions for consumer engagement in the future and met plenty of candidates who were set for a glittering career in produce.
Plans are already afoot for the 2017 event – bigger and better knowing Tommy and his team – delivering just what we need, inspiring the next generation of our industry to take a fresh look at produce. If you weren’t part of the this year’s event, you need to be making plans to be there next year. It was very exciting to meet so many talented young people looking at our industry with enthusiasm and eager to apply their bright minds.
Brexit – are you doing your homework? As the debate heats up there is one thing that is apparent to me, in the farming debate as it is in other sections of society. People are divided about how worse or better off we will all be as a consequence of leaving Europe. This includes farm subsidy and the discussions around agriculture’s dependence on this and its consequential implications for underpinning food prices.
What we must be clear on is that horticulture is in a very different position to agriculture. If you think that farm incomes are between 48% and 60% subsidy, please don’t forget that the same is not true in most horticultural businesses and publicising this figure has the potential to be very damaging, in my opinion. Fruit farming businesses do not have access to the basic payment scheme (BPS) and in the main stewardship schemes are not applicable either. These apply to rotational field grown crops. There isn’t much rotation in an orchard now is there?
Producer organisation schemes and processing and marketing grant streams are of undoubted value in horticulture. They have brought growing and marketing groups together, working cooperatively and centralising operations to bring investment and improvements in efficiency, quality and service. Yes, it can be argued that this has an impact in underpinning the actual cost of producing food, but match funding and investment in advancements has never and will never be equal to BPS and the way that it supports agriculture. The whole of farming in the UK can be described accurately as in crisis at present: returns are unsustainable whichever sector you look at. But surely we would be better off talking publically about the needs to advance, to be able to source suitable labour and technology rather than making much of the need for handouts?