Agriculture has undergone a massive period of change in the last 20 years and this will continue in the future. It is a necessity for the profitability of individual farmers that agriculture becomes recognised as the all-embracing economy in rural areas. The main income may now still come from food production but other income may be derived from agri environmental schemes, non-food productive crops and animals (eg. cosmetics and sport horses), agri-tourism, energy production, water management, waste management, letting of farm buildings and leisure pursuits to Iist a few. The challenges facing the next generation of farmers are those concerned with shaping and managing these changes in a way that ensures profitability whilst at the same time embracing the requirements of taxpayers and government.
So what are the personal attributes that individuals will need to confront these challenges?
Firstly the individuals will have to have a clear and compelling vision for the future of agriculture and an understanding of what the industry contributes to society. Secondly there is a need for commitment to engage with all those who have an interest in agricultural activities and a belief that agriculture meets their requirements. In the words of Henry Plumb “only by engaging with others is it possible to achieve great things”.
A consideration of the agricultural education system in the UK shows that universities and colleges recognise the need to develop the personal skills in their students. This is done in a number of ways, such as, peer group presentations, seminars and tutorials focussed on personality improvement and listening skills, organisation of their own working schedules and practices, and deadlines that increase awareness of the benefits of self-discipline.
The aim is for students to leave education with a portfolio of evidence, as well as a personality that makes them able to cope with the many issues in the work place. Educational providers therefore need to maintain and foster close links with industry.
On-going training and updating should be an essential part of successful employment. There are many examples of training available but reference is made to several well respected opportunities.
Nuffield Farming Scholarship Trust. Nuffield has been going since the first scholars were appointed in 1947. Today there are around 20 scholarships available each year in the UK for agricultural enthusiasts who wish to broaden their knowledge and understanding of different cultures, and grasp the world’s overall problems by travelling to different countries and listening to great orators and thinkers.
Many people have benefitted from “the Nuffield experience” made more informative by the Nuffield worldwide network. As individuals, Nuffield scholars come back more confident, more knowledgeable and generally more humble from an experience that will have changed their lives forever in a positive way. For information visit the Nuffield Farming Scholarship Trust or chief executive Col Mike Vacher.
Young directors and managers can also apply to two Worshipful Company of Farmers courses that recruit every year.
The Worshipful Company of Farmers Rural Leadership Course runs, under the tutorage of Richard Soffe and the Duchy College, for 2 weeks and aims to develop individual personalities by addressing media training and group discussions which help with self-confidence and communication. Additionally visiting influential speakers cover policy and their own leadership styles.
Delegates can share their experiences and develop mentors and friendships that have been demonstrated overtime to offer great comfort to each other.
The course, as well as appealing to practical farmer also serves a useful training for policy makers, journalists, advisors and consultants. One of the strengths of the Worshipful Company of Farmers courses is the inclusion of delegates from around the world with mainland Europe and Australasia usually participating.
The second opportunity is the Worshipful Company of Farmers Advanced Farming Business Management Course that has run for a number of years now at the Royal Agricultural University. This provides a forum for managers and directors of land based businesses and agri businesses. The aim is to allow the participants to share their knowledge and experiences, to benefit from lifelong friendships formed and to learn about business from a group of specialist practitioners. The learning is provided by using case studies, by working in teams and by using a range of visiting speakers.
There are two other courses that provide for young practitioners who are taking on managerial roles for the first time.
The first is the John Edgar Trust which is open to delegates from Hampshire and the surrounding counties. This has been going for many years now and has over 200 alumni. This runs every other year for 12 delegates with a week at the Royal Agricultural University and then 2 weeks at the Grosvenor Hotel Stockbridge.
Whilst the common aim of all these courses is to give personal development, this course also has an emphasis on rural and farm businesses. Again team work is used to enable common learning.
A similar course called the Farm Management Development Programme is now running in the North of England hosted by the Bishop Burton College. It pulls from all over the UK (except Hants and the surrounding counties).
Lastly the Institute of Agricultural Management Leadership Development Programme aims at helping those who are already in leadership roles within the land based industries. It has been running every other year since 2002 and has over 80 alumni. The aim is to use predominantly visiting speakers who talk about their leadership role and with whom the delegates are able to enter into debate.
The delegates spend one week at the Royal Agricultural University and then a week in Brussels and a week in London. The alumni from the course are now spread throughout the UK representing our industry in roles such as: two Chairmen of AHDB sectors, a head of agriculture and a director with the banks, Chief Executive of an agricultural society, Master of the Farmers livery company, Chairmen of the Farmers Club, High Sheriff, Farmer of the Year at the Farmer Weekly awards, to name a few. This course is also supported by overseas delegates from various world countries.
This list of courses is only a small sector of the training that is available but all these courses are supported by charities that feel delegates may need some financial help to cover the expense.
It is clear that the industry is well served with opportunities to develop individuals. There is, however, a need for delegates to want to participate so that everyone benefits.