Farmers Guardian meets two of the youngsters who have been involved in the latest intake on the programme.
Launched during 2014, the Future Farmer Foundation, which is managed on behalf of Tesco by Promar International, was established to help talented and determined young people make their own start in the world of agriculture, whether that is taking over the family farm, embarking on a new business venture, or entering the industry for the first time.
So far two intakes totalling 98 young people have begun their journey through the programme with a third intake planned for later in the year.
Chris Manley, from Tesco Agriculture, says: “The aim is to identify and develop enthusiastic and committed young people who want to take the industry to the next level, providing a programme of training and insights which is unavailable elsewhere.
“Our aim is to help develop their knowledge, networks and confidence and equip them to be successful in a rapidly evolving industry.”
The Future Farmer Foundation is a 12-month programme designed to support young people to make their own start in farming and is open to anyone aged from 20-35. It is also open to those individuals from a non farming background.
Promar senior consultant Rebecca Lewis, who is involved on the programme on a day-to-day basis, says: “While some of the participants are farmer’s sons and daughters, nearly 30 per cent have come from outside the industry but want to make their mark in farming.
“The programme is designed to cover a broad range of subjects, but the emphasis is on developing the broader business and marketing skills. At the end of the programme participants will have developed their business and financial planning skills, have an in-depth understanding of the supply chain across their own and other farming sectors, and will have gained the confidence to prepare a robust business plan to take their business concepts forward.”
Industry visits are also key and have so far included trips to Adams Foods, Muller-Wiseman, Noble Foods, Cranswick Country Foods, Bayer CropScience, Toyota and Thanet Earth. Participants have also attended an agricultural investment seminar.
Since joining the Future Farmers Foundation, Sophie Hope is developing a clearer vision for the pig and poultry enterprises on the family farm.
Returning to the farm was not part of her original agenda, which involved a science degree at Durham followed by a masters in international agricultural development at Cirencester. She spent three years working for BQP, part of Dalehead Foods, as a supply chain fieldperson before deciding to return to rural Gloucestershire.
Sophie, 29, says: “I have responsibility for the farrowing to finish straw-based pig unit and the broiler breeder enterprise. I want to run a farm which demonstrates indoor production systems are high welfare and a commercially viable and sustainable option.
“At the same time, differentiation from the commodity market is important. I joined the Future Farmer Foundation as I thought it could help me achieve these objectives.
“As I was new back to the farm I hoped the business planning, decision-making, management and leadership sections would improve my understanding, while I was hopeful of developing a better insight of supply chains.”
She believes the contact with major industry players such as Cranswick and the broad exposure to other supply chains will help her develop the home farm business.
“My horizons are now much broader and I have a better feel for what I need to do to move the business forward. I want to expand the sow herd to 500 while achieving 30 pigs/sow/year. I am also planning to increase the poultry flock productivity to 135 chicks/bird.
“I now know the importance of understanding my supply chains and meeting their requirements. I want to increase productivity but need to ensure there is a secure market. There is no point planning and investing without first making sure the extra produce will have a market.”
The Tesco Future Farmer Foundation combines a mix of activity to help kick-start the farming career of young, new entrants, giving them a strong foundation of skills, she says.
Although she did not grow up on a farm, farming has always been familiar to Abi Erian. Her mother and grandfather were farmers and since an early age it is all she has wanted to do.
She says: “After a period of work experience at the National Trust Wimpole Hall, I took any job there I could, including jobs in catering and as an equine groom until I landed a place working on the estate farm.”
She left to complete a degree in agriculture at the Royal Agricultural University at Cirencester, which included a farm placement with Velcourt. Abi returned to the 445-hectare (1,100-acre) Wimpole Hall Estate as a management trainee in 2012, mainly involved on the arable side, but also working with the livestock enterprises.
“The farm grows combinable crops on an organic system, but I get involved across the farm which is open to the public and also has a successful farm shop. As such it means we are in touch with the consumer on a daily basis.”
Abi, who is 25, joined the Future Farmers Foundation in April last year, although she admits she was surprised to be accepted. “As my career has been spent on the same farm I wanted to broaden my horizons so the Foundation looked to be a really good scheme.
“It has given a great insight into how other businesses, both in farming and other industries, approach the challenges they face. I’ve been able to get close to a broad range of businesses across the supply chain too and increased my appreciation of supply chains in general.
“I have also increased my network with a group of like-minded people and it has encouraged me to think differently. The business planning and analysis elements of the course have helped me assess aspects of the business and to leave no stones unturned when looking to improve performance.”
In her role as assistant farm manager, which she stepped into following her management trainee position, Abi is now focusing on a rebranding project for the farm produce and scaling up the marketing of the arable produce through National Trust farm shops, alongside building up to taking over the running of the arable enterprises. She also hopes to embark on her dream by starting to run a small sheep flock alongside her day job.