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Year of the Family Farm: Nurturing the skills of individuals within a family farming business

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Professional development should not be overlooked by family farms.


According to Philip Wynn, master of the Worshipful Company of Farmers, nurturing the skills of individuals within a family farming business has never been so important.


He says: “We are in a period where everything is constantly moving and evolving. Nothing is certain. “The only thing we know is we have to be efficient and we need to be light on our feet – proactive, not reactive.


“Anyone who wants to be in farming and food long-term needs to be looking to develop themselves and their businesses. “This development comes in many forms, but begins with the acknowledgement there is always something to learn.”


For some, this means travelling the world to see how other farmers approach the challenges facing agriculture. Others pursue more formal training courses to hone their skills in a particular area. Whatever the route, Mr Wynn says age should not be a barrier.


“You never stop learning in this industry; it is one of the wonders of agriculture.” But he acknowledges dedicating the time away from the farm or finding money to fund development is not without its challenges. He says: “Family farms can be isolated and insular, which is one thing you cannot afford to be.


“Professional development takes people out of their environment, so when they get back to their businesses, they have had the chance to change their outlook. “If someone comes back to the farm with new ideas wanting to change things, it can be difficult for the older generation to accept.


“Another challenge for an employer or a family is keeping the person motivated. They are coming back with enthusiasm and aspirations, but the business has to work with them and use their new skills.” Mr Wynn says there are plenty of opportunities for families to explore.


“Younger people can look at apprenticeships or applying for funding to kick-start an idea they have, perhaps for a diversification or to find a way of adding value. “Then you move on to formal training and business mentoring.


There are plenty of really good travelling opportunities with programmes to fund them, then you have the full, immersive management courses, which take you away from the farm for three or four weeks.


“Whatever the route, they all help develop knowledge and I believe knowledge is power. “You need to be at the top of your game and understand where improvement can be made.”

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Case study: Making the most of opportunities


Gaining as much experience as possible will make you more employable, says North Yorkshire pedigree cattle breeder Josh Dowbiggin


The son of parents who did not want to take up careers in the agricultural sector, 21-yearold Josh Dowbiggin did not have the easiest of entries into the farming industry. Effectively, he was a new entrant, with no farm to get started on, but his passion for the sector helped him move past the barriers.


At 14 he founded the Ghyll Beck Hereford stud, focusing on importation of fresh genetics into Europe, then selling on embryos to Hereford breeders across the UK and in Scandinavia. When he was 16, he spent a summer working on a 400-cow beef ranch in Canada.


It is this experience out in the field which Josh believes was a sound building block for his career. He says: “It is great to make sure you have the experience before you look for permanent jobs. Employers really look to ensure you have sought those opportunities within the industry and gained knowledge along the way.”


A Harper Adams agriculture student, Josh won a 12-month placement with Co-op Food and the retailer’s beef supplier ABP UK last year.


He says: “I sit on the agriculture team at Co-op and work from the headquarters in Manchester. I spend time in ABP abattoirs, working with farm suppliers and on processing sites and developing the agricultural message for Co-op.


“I work closely with the integrated calf scheme, which takes dairy calves from farmers and puts them into calf rearing units. “A typical day would see me getting into the office at 7am, then into meetings about marketing campaigns, products and labelling, new product development or I could be leading taste panels.”


Josh feels the skills he has learned over the last year have given him a clearer idea of what he would like to do in the future and he believes this knowledge will be transferable into the industry.


He says: “A big gap in my knowledge was the retailer and processor aspect of the supply chain, so I thought getting experience from those two sectors could have helped me greatly.


“It has given me an insight into how it works throughout the industry and given me an insight into what those businesses look for from farmers.


“I have learned a lot about people skills and how to communicate within a business, how to get a point across in a diplomatic way and also to have an impact on the company you are working for.


“I would urge others to have confidence, be yourself, do not be afraid to ask questions and make sure you get as much experience as you can and make yourself as employable as possible.”


Potential routes

  • Apprenticeships

Lantra offers a full list of training providers on its website and the National Apprenticeship Service can also marry up those searching for work with those offering it.

  • Henry Plumb Foundation

Young people can get financial support and mentoring from the Henry Plumb Foundation. Successful applicants aged 18-35 are given small but significant grants to fund ideas, often diversifications, new ventures or value adding exercises, and are allocated a mentor. The closing date for the latest round of applications is June 9.

  • Worshipful Company of Farmers

The company supports and promotes a three-week advanced course in agricultural business management and a challenge of rural leadership course. It has also announced it will offer a one-week leadership and management course.

  • Nuffield Farming Scholarships

Perhaps one of agriculture’s most well-known programmes, combining professional development and travel.

  • Regional support

Help to counter costs of attending university or travelling to improve your understanding of agriculture may be on-hand at a regional level. For example, the Kent Agricultural Show Society offers a scholarship to college or university students worth £1,000 each for up to three years.

  • Studley College Trust

The trust offers bursaries, scholarships and other funding for students in agriculture , horticulture or related land-based subjects.


  • Institute of Agricultural Management

Regional and national events are run by the Institute of Agricultural Management.

Expert opinion: Business thinking when employing apprentices or trainees on-farm

There are obvious mutual benefits in employing apprentices or trainees on-farm, but the key is to remember any temporary staff member carries the same status as a full-time employee in the eyes of the insurer.


Whether preparing and cultivating land, maintaining equipment or harvesting and storing crops, apprentices can gain a wide range of experience.


By considering the following points, you can benefit from the contribution of eager recruits:


  • Ensure all staff members are fully acquainted with, and follow, health and safety procedures. All students and casual labour have the same rights as full-time employees and the business is responsible for their safety and working conditions while under your supervision/instruction.
  • Ensure a training plan is in place for students and apprentices. For example, ensure apprentices are familiar with how to set up attachments such as drills before operating machinery.
  • Check driving licences and keep a copy for your records. It is the policyholder’s responsibility to ensure employees can legally operate on-farm vehicles. Check driving packages on the employees’ insurance policy and be aware of age limits for nonagricultural classified vehicles.
  • Consider transferring excess payments to the tractor operator. Some farmers have written into the operators’ contract that they will be responsible for the excess payment in the event of an incident, often to encourage careful operation.
  • Consider increasing your employers’ liability limit, as recent changes to personal injury law bring this more into focus, and an apprentice will invariably have a longer working life to claim on.

By Georgie Spencer, farm insurance consultant, Farmers & Mercantile

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