The backbone of many farms across the UK are the family behind them and, in order to preserve and progress their future, a new group has launched to welcome the next generation of farmers. Danusia Osiowy finds out more.
At the heart of many farms lie the families behind them, who, through generations, will develop the businesses to help secure their place in years to come.
With the average age of a farmer marked at 59 and the United Nations stating food production must double by 2050 to feed a growing population, encouraging and enabling a new generation to thrive and grow UK farms and beyond is crucial.
One of the biggest opportunities to facilitate the next generation of farmers is through succession, whether that be through a family member or to a non-family member.
And while there are many challenges surrounding the issue, there are farming families with a clear plan to support the next phase of business growth, with the next generation taking an active lead.
In supporting the next generation of farmers, focus is needed in five areas: training; knowledge transfer; opportunities; succession; and leadership; says chief executive of the Norfolk Family Mediation Service, Mike Mack.
He says: “More than 50 per cent of decision-makers in agricultural businesses are over 55 years old.”
Mike has completed a Nuffield Farming scholarship on the next generation of farmers.
He adds: “The issue is starting to have an impact and actions need to be taken to ensure the UK’s agricultural industry can maintain its position as a leader in world farming.
“To enable the next generation to take part in the industry and ensure we have a forward-looking industry for future generations, there should be investment in the leadership skills of new entrants.”
He suggests the key skills needed include: communication; negotiation; co-operation; directorship; and policy.
But the main challenge in establishing both the skills and supporting the next generation in a leadership role is the time and effort needed to establish a new business.
He says: “Funding for training needs to embrace this challenge by including the costs of travel and working away from the business.”
In 2019, Morrisons launched its Next Generation Producer Group, aimed at 18- to 35-year-olds, which welcomed 20 suppliers on the first intake.
The group is designed to show the young farmers the integrated field to fork supply chain, as well as hosting discussion groups and talks on key topics. It also provides networking opportunities to share knowledge with each other.
IT is all change for the Mair family after recently exiting the dairy industry to pursue organic conversion on their Scottish farm.
Son Kenny has returned home to join parents, Barclay and Lucy, and sister Sally, to oversee the 336-hectare (830-acre) unit, which currently runs 500 Scotch and Cheviot Mule ewes, 50 Stabiliser cows and 15 pedigree Shorthorns.
Due to the closure of the Aberdeen milk plant and a price implication on haulage, dairying became increasingly difficult, so the family decided to apply to become organic after selling their dairy stock at a dispersal sale.
Alongside beef and sheep, the land will be involved in a rotation involving carrots, oats, pea and barley wholecrop and grass.
Having heard about Morrisons Next Generation Producer Group from their procurement manager at Woodheads, Kenny decided to apply and become one of 20 members in the inaugural group.
The group recently got together for a two-day event in Carlisle, which included site visits and presentations.
Kenny says: “What I found interesting was understanding more about what the slaughterhouse wants from farmers. They are not after a huge E-grade carcase, but prefer consistently smaller averages.
“It is all about understanding how we meet that spec back at home.”
While delegates came from different sized farms and sectors, Kenny, believes they all share a mutual aim of progressing their family businesses and the challenges this brings.
He says: “Looking ahead, veganism could become bigger, as will reducing our carbon emissions.
“As an industry, we cannot afford to bury our heads and I am mindful of this back on our farm.
“Our own focus will be to complete the conversion, as I am confident we can grow more in the organic sector because of consumer demand and the belief that organic products are healthier and better for the environment.”
A keen volunteer for his local Turriff Show, Kenny graduated from Scotland’s Rural College with a degree in agriculture before working as a trainee auctioneer for two years at United Auctions.
He believes sharing knowledge and meeting other young farmers is key to future-proofing farm businesses: “Knowledge transfer is massively important. It is a technical industry and we need to farm smarter. Every detail helps in improving efficiency.”
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DESPITE securing a football scholarship in Memphis, Tennessee, Elaine Sedgewick always knew she wanted to return to the family farm. So after seeing some of the world and embracing the opportunity to play sport at an international level, she came back ready to commit to the family farm.
In 2011, she became a partner and runs the business together with her father Martin. While he takes responsibility for the 303 hectares (750 acres) of arable farming, helped by her husband Rob she heads up the livestock side of the business, in particular the commercial beef fattening herd, having learned the ropes from her grandfather Bill.
“I went to the marts learning the tricks of the trade and what would make ideal commercial cattle for the farm with him,” explains Elaine, who has two children: Eleanor, five, and James, one.
Long Myers Farm finishes about 500 cattle per year, which are mainly Limousins and British Blues, as they suit the farm’s finishing system.
Cattle are weighed entering the farm and run through an animal health programme and then allocated to relevant sheds where rationing and requirements are altered to individual specifics of the stock.
While livestock is Elaine’s main area of responsibility, she was encouraged by cattle buyer Michael Winchester to apply to become a member of the Next Generation Producer Group.
She says: “I thought it would be a good opportunity to meet other young farmers and see the process cattle go through before they reach the shelves in Morrisons.”
Now a member of the inaugural group, the recent first host visit secured her belief of the role these working groups can have to boost confidence and benefit the wider management of family farms.
Elaine says: “These groups are important as they provide young farmers with the knowledge they need to what the market is demanding. Times are changing and, in general, old farmers do not like change, but it is important to adapt to be able to produce what is needed.”
Looking ahead, Elaine wants to expand cattle numbers, having recently just built a silage pit to enable them to grow a variety of different feed crops for cattle and enable better crop rotations.