The Tesco Future Farmer Foundation programme is offering young individuals the chance to develop their leadership skills to progress in agriculture. Farmers Guardian speaks to two farmers who decided to apply to the programme, which is now in its fourth year.
Launched in 2014, the Tesco Future Farmer Foundation sets out to help talented, determined young people make a confident start in agriculture – whether they are looking to take over the family farm, embark on a new farming venture, or enter the industry for the first time.
Open to individuals aged 20-35 from all agricultural sectors across the UK and Ireland, it offers the chance to build the skills, experience and networks to succeed.
Promar senior consultant Rebecca Lewis is involved on the programme on a day-to-day basis and says the content focuses on business management skills, understanding the supply chain, and personal development to help build resilient businesses for the future.
She says: “The foundation uses leading experts to deliver each element of the programme, whether this is some of our best known food and farming companies or leading industry professionals from banking, law, marketing, media, and more.”
To date, almost 150 young farmers have participated in the scheme, with 50 joining the 12-month programme each year.
About 35 per cent of these have been new entrants to the industry, with the remainder next generation farmers.
Young farmers have a wide range of interests, with 47 per cent having involvement in beef or sheep production, 37 per cent in dairy, 34 per cent in arable farming, 22 per cent in pigs or poultry and 9 per cent in horticulture. It is hoped the first aquaculture producers will participate this year.
Hannah Donegan, Tesco agriculture manager for lamb, says “Our Future Farmer Foundation is about encouraging people to make their own start in agriculture. We have been delighted with the huge drive and enthusiasm we have seen so far with all involved.”
While completing a degree in business, James decided he did not want to go into the family oil exploration business. Instead, he found a novel way to invest some of his student loan – buying two sows.
The enterprise eventually grew to 30 sows but now, two years later, James is planning to lamb 500 ewes next spring on one-year grazing lets near Chichester, West Sussex.
“I decided I wanted to make a career in farming but, with no family background in farming, I had to start from the bottom and work my way up,” he says.
With a job off the farm as an agricultural sales rep, James is getting used to juggling responsibilities and ensuring there is always someone round to manage the sheep if he’s not there.
This managerial element of his activity will help him achieve his goal of lambing 1,000 low input Romney ewes by 2018 and hopefully gaining a tenancy to ensure a more secure base.
"I now have an address book full of young farmers with similar viewpoints and a host of contacts from across the wider industry"
James manages about 65 hectares (160 acres) of grass and has 500 New Zealand Romneys, with April lambs finished on grass.
“With farming grazing lets, I have no security,” he says.
“I don’t rent any buildings, but I have an arrangement with a friend which means I can store machinery.
“I like the fact I can work outdoors and am in control of my own business, but appreciate I have a lot to learn, so when I found out about the foundation it seemed like an ideal opportunity. It would expose me to many sectors of the industry, allow me to learn from quality speakers and broaden my perspective.
“Probably the biggest benefit is the network I have been able to develop. Not coming from a farming background, I didn’t have the support network many young farmers have. Through my involvement with the foundation, I now have an address book full of young farmers with similar viewpoints and a host of contacts from across the wider industry who are all happy to challenge my thinking.
“I never imagined being able to pick up the phone to someone farming 3,000ha of arable in Cambridgeshire.”
James is now one of 100 members of the Tesco Sustainable Lamb Group, which has helped focus his production.
Looking forward, he is hopeful he will eventually secure a farm tenancy.
“This is the logical next stage and something I am keen to achieve. I feel I can demonstrate I have the business, financial and other skills required to develop a sustainable business.”
Tom grew up on a family farm near Stowmarket, Suffolk, but when the tenancy ended in 2013 he had to seek new avenues to develop a career in agriculture, having graduated with a degree in rural land management from Cirencester in 2012.
After a spell working on a livestock farm where pigs and turkeys were the principal enterprises, he travelled to New Zealand for six months to work on the harvest.
Returning to the UK in 2014, he applied for a post as assistant manager with Adrian Scripps, a leading fruit producer in Kent. The business grows 750 hectares (1,850 acres) of fruit and cereals, with more than 300ha (740 acres) of apples, pears and blackcurrants, mainly sold to Tesco.
Tom is involved in all aspects of growing and packing the fruit, as well as being responsible for the arable side of the business.
He applied to the Future Farmer Foundation as he wanted to expand his horizons and better understand supply chains.
He says: “During my time with the foundation, I have been exposed to a range of different perspectives and ideas which broadened my approach to my job, so I am well-placed to progress my career.
“The foundation seemed a way to get practical experience, rather than classroom learning.
“Because it is open to the whole industry, you are working with people from all sectors. This means you are forced to think more widely and see problems from a range of angles.
“One of the most thought-provoking parts of the syllabus has been the trips to different businesses. While the visit to [industrial plant growing facility] Thanet Earth was appropriate as I work in the horticulture sector, I probably learned as much from going to Arla or the Weetabix factory.
"There is no doubt I think more broadly now and can hopefully bring different approaches to the challenges we will face"
”Tom has also spent a month in South Africa under the Tesco Industry Opportunities Scheme, where suppliers go on secondment to other suppliers.
As his time on the programme draws to a finish at the end of next month, Tom believes he will return to the farm with renewed business objectives and thinking.
“There is no doubt I think more broadly now and can hopefully bring different approaches to the challenges we will face. The focus on the business and financial aspects will also be invaluable as businesses look to plan for the political and economic changes we are all facing.”