Tesco Future Farmer Foundation is back to help young farmers and there is still time to apply. Farmers Guardian talks to three applicants from different walks of life.
The Tesco Future Farmer Foundation is back once again to help young individuals realise their agricultural ambitions.
Launched in 2014, the organisation is looking for those wishing to take over the family farm, enter the industry as first generation farmers or pursue a new rural enterprise.
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.
Successful candidates can expect to learn business management skills, develop their understanding of the supply chain, and continue their personal development to help build resilient businesses for the future.
To date, 250 young farmers have participated in the programme with 50 joining the 12-month programme each year. About 33 per cent have been industry new entrants with the remainder next generation farmers.
Each Future Farmer is matched with an individual peer mentor as well as the opportunity to be matched with a mentor within the agri-food industry. Applicants also have opportunities for further training via a training fund which offers support with upskilling and work placements in Tesco supplier businesses in the UK and beyond.
A degree in graphic design is not a qualification typically associated with large scale sheep production but is not seen as a drawback by Laura Hodgkins who, despite not being from a farming background, is now working with her husband running 2,000 New Zealand Romneys on a long-term FBT in Sussex.
When Laura’s husband Andy returned to his family farming business following a career as a land agent, Laura continued her full time career in marketing but helped out on the farm when she could. Then an opportunity came up which was too good to miss and the couple successfully won a tenancy on a farm just 15 miles away.
The move sparked Laura’s decision to go full time into farming, and she is now fully involved in all aspects of managing the farm.
“It is only in the last 18 months I have been working full time on our own farm I have really gained any sense of experience of what farming entails. I was keen to learn more and get involved in the business and a friend, who was also new to farming, was part of the 2017 programme and recommended I apply.
“For me, just seeing how a large-scale supermarket interacts with farms has been really beneficial. The finance module of the course has been one of the most useful parts for me, really helping helped with our budgeting and planning for the future,” explains Laura.
“After seeing the Tesco cost of production lamb contract supplier offer, we are looking to apply to be a Tesco Supplier this year, something I never would have pushed for had it not been for the scheme.”
“I have become much more savvy in the way we record and monitor our accounts and the financial management of the business. The scheme has really helped me build my confidence within my business at home and I have a range of contacts within the industry as well as a soundboard of individuals in my fellow participants”.
Rob is hopeful the combination of experience gained on his family farm near Cranbrook, combined with the skills learned as part of the programme will have helped him take the helm at a successful fruit growing business.
A 2016 graduate from Reading University with a BSc Agriculture, Rob grew up on the 150 acre family farm, with his father growing fruit and hop and supplying blackcurrants to Ribena.
In addition to working on the home farm, he has spent time in Research and Development of soft fruit, working for Haygrove in Herefordshire and is currently, assistant farm manager at Adrian Scripps who grow apples, pears and blackcurrants.
The idea of being surrounded by like-minded, driven individuals who are on a similar journey, perhaps in need of some direction or guidance in order to take the next step in their career, or just to gain confidence in what they're doing, attracted Rob to the initiative.
“I expected to learn a little bit about business planning and personal development,” says Rob.
“But I have ended up with a great deal of motivation and confidence to point my career in the direction I want it to go, rather than just bumble along.
“I particularly enjoyed the supply chain visit to Arla where we were tasked with pitching a new yoghurt product to the mock Tesco buying panel. This was a great way to learn the powers of negotiation, which I put into practice in my current role with negotiating with staff.”
“Having a mentor has been invaluable. His business is also in fresh produce so he has a lot of experience to share and in particular has helped with new ideas to improve worker welfare to develop a stronger team of pickers. As a result I have made changes to the picker’s conditions such as leisure opportunities and better accommodation to help strengthen the team on the farm.
For the next 12 months Rob intends to stay in his current role and will eventually return to his family business with a broader experience and skills set.
A fourth generation dairy farmer, Chris Appleton never doubted he would work in agriculture.
“There has never been any real doubt in my mind that my future lay in agriculture. Having completed a degree in agriculture at Reading University, I worked on a 1,200 cow pasture-based dairy farm in New Zealand.
“I also spent three summers in Suffolk gaining diverse experience on a large arable and vegetable farm and also gained work experience as diverse as a fish farm and a dairy farm in Oxfordshire. I didn’t join the home farm until after university but I knew dairy was what I wanted to do.
Chris is now the farm manager and director of the 700 acre family business runnin 450 high yielding Holstein/Friesian dairy cows. The cows are autumn calving and average 10,500 litres.
“My current role involves developing the strategy for the business and there is no doubt we are entering a challenging time for the industry.
“One of the most valuable benefits from the programme has been the contacts I have made, providing a sounding board for business ideas. As a result I have made several changes related to how we manage the team of six full time staff.
“The course has reinforced good business management practice, and as a family business we have also been more focussed on discussing succession planning.
“It has also helped me gain clarity in making key business decisions For example, it has helped me think differently about how we develop the team here. We are currently in the process of recruiting a new team member and have looked at the structure of the team to optimise individuals’ skills and strengths and ensure they continue to develop.”
“The day you think you’re done with learning is the day you should retire – no-one will never know it all, you can always learn something from others.
“All this will help me achieve my ambition of being at the helm of a top performing dairy business that is able to provide opportunities for other young farmers who are looking to get ahead in the industry.”