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Andrew Eastabrook: Food education is agriculture's biggest issue

A 2011 National Trust survey found consumers rated their knowledge of farming at 4.5 out of 10.

Two out of every five adults in the UK were unable to define what an arable farm was and one in six could not identify wheat as the main ingredient of flour.

 

The reality of the situation is the general public are not sufficiently informed.

 

The biggest issue facing the agricultural sector today is not antimicrobial resistance, genetically-modified organism (GMO) labelling or animal welfare, but a lack of education.

 

Global topics surrounding agriculture include the likes of GMOs, animal welfare and rights, and our impact on the environment, such as water contamination.


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Activist groups such as Peta and the Non-GMO Project have considerable funding at their disposal and always use the media to their best advantage, including preying on the lack of suitable education to generate fear among consumers.

 

These knowledge ‘black holes’ relating to our industry are not hidden issues, but are simply not taught to those who do not actively seek to obtain the information.

 

Agriculture in the UK employs just 1.5 per cent of the country’s workforce. As such, most of the general population is so far removed from its own food chain they simply are not aware of the fact it is something they actually need to be better educated about.

 

My own agricultural education began on-farm and was subsequently developed through vocational courses and, latterly, at university.

 

For me, working on farms from a young age stimulated my thirst for knowledge surrounding crop and animal science, and also agricultural economics, inspiring me sufficiently to want to pursue a higher education route into the study of agriculture.

My experiences have reinforced the belief an opportunity to study such a multi-faceted sector should be made available much earlier to future generations.

 

We need to actively lobby our MPs to exert pressure on Government and ensure environmental education is part of the compulsory curriculum, so young people get a chance to learn what goes on in the countryside.

 

A 2012 report by the Royal Agricultural Society of England estimated the UK needed 60,000 new entrants over the following decade.

 

Proportionally, we are now more than halfway there, but numbers of emerging entrants are nowhere near the original target.

 

We all have a role to fulfil in the sector, in promoting agriculture as a highly-skilled, professional and progressive career to attract the most talented individuals and secure the future of our industry.

 

Encouragingly, at Hartpury we have seen consistent growth in the uptake of agricultural studies, with almost 300 students opting for agricultural courses across further education and higher education levels.

 

We are always being told we must prepare today’s children to change the world, and it will be this generation which will be responsible for correcting the mistakes of the past. Without proper understanding of the industry which started it all, we will not be able to create a better world for the future.

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