We recently saw the return of UK Dairy Day, based at the International Exhibition Centre in Telford. Nothing says international quite like Telford.
Yes, yours truly was rubbing shoulders with the great and not so great of the dairy industry and discussing the latest developments in animal feed and the dairy tech sectors.
And while everyone I spoke to was extremely nice and knowledgeable, I became aware of something that has not perhaps been as obvious to me as it is now: most of the people I chatted to had either been in the industry for 30-plus years or fewer than five years. There were not very many in between.
There is a distinct lack of people in their mid 30s to 40s throughout our industry from farm gate to senior management. But why?
Well, looking at my own path, I can only imagine it is because from the late 1980s to mid 1990s UK farming was a pretty awful career choice.
Edwina Currie and her salmonella statement, BSE and the video of the same sickly cow being used every time it was mentioned on the news, poor cereal prices and the boom of new and exciting IT based careers in metropolitan areas where you could earn more money sat on your backside five days a week than you could breaking your back for seven days a week doing manual labour all contributed.
Indeed my own year group at Silsoe College, Bedfordshire, numbered 22. Out of those 22, four of us stayed in farming in one way or another while the others pursued more ‘glamorous’ careers such as accountancy.
As a rule, farmers are awful when it comes to succession, but I bet some of you are nodding your heads that you would really like to update some bits of kit on the farm, but someone will not let you, while at the same time saying ‘but you can do whatever you like when I am gone’.
For example, I went to a farm in Dorset a couple of years ago where the father, in his 80s, was about to ‘proudly’ handover the farm to his sons, both of whom were already in their mid 60s, as if he was doing them a favour.
This meant their children in their late 20s would have to either wait 20 years or go somewhere else to get on. Which they inevitably did.
Throughout the agricultural trade, this is a real issue. A lot of the ‘long-termers’ are now casting an eye to the sun, sea and sand of retirement, and who can blame them.
But this is going to leave a vacuum of experience where the recent graduates, as excellent as they are, do not have the knowledge to impart.
To indicate how desperate things are, I was once interviewed for a director position with a major UK feed compounder. I did not get it, for two reasons: I was no expert in ruminant digestion; and I reversed into the potential employer’s car, which did not help.
And that is the point, I should have been nowhere near that interview but, simply, there was a lack of suitable candidates and there still is, which, if you are in your mid-30s to 40s is great news for you, but less so if you are an employer trying to get someone in.