We asked influencers in the industry why young people should choose farming as a career, they were both practical and poetic in their responses. The study of agriculture grows in popularity but how do we convey the realities of farming to encourage lengthy careers? As a strong community, it is important to show the enthusiasm and pride we have in our jobs.
Reconnection with farming
With meat and dairy products readily available 24-hours-a-day and even delivered to the door, it’s easy for people to forget about farming origins: “The moment that people domesticated plants and animals, settled down, and began to produce the kind of society in which most of us live today.” There is an evident rift between farming and the food on people’s plates.
“Unfortunately, we have seen two very different worlds drift apart,” says Hannah Jackson, former Next Generation Ambassador for the National Sheep Association. “Our most important job and responsibility as farmers, is to connect these two worlds together again.”
Jackson firmly believes that if we are to succeed in inspiring the next generation to engage with farming, we have to start the process early on:
“Coming from a non-agricultural, urban background I’ve seen first hand how disconnected children and families are. This is what needs to be fixed. There needs to be more education and exposure in primary schools and throughout the rest of the school years. The earlier we expose young people to agriculture and where their food comes from is when we’ll see more and more interest.”
Yet if the average age of a UK farmer is 59, we need to put some thought into how we connect with a much younger audience. Jackson suggests the “best way we can inspire people is to tell our story – no one can tell it better than us. We have to make ourselves approachable to individuals who feel they can ask questions and find out more.”
Dr Stuart Barber, a Senior Lecturer for the Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Science at the University of Melbourne, is exploring new ways to connect with students using technology. He has a farming background but many of his students haven’t: “It wasn’t a lack of interest, it was more a lack of previous access. When you look at the overall population the statistics show that very few people have been on a farming property.” Even so, Barber thinks that “many people think farmers do a good job but have little or no idea what they actually do (Rabobank survey in Australia, 2014),” so he set out to show them: “Help people understand!”
Barber has been involved in developing a 360° view of ten farming properties in Australia. Students can then see all the activity that takes place throughout the course of a year. Footage shows different parts of the farm for wool sheep, meat sheep, dairy, beef and pigs throughout the changing seasons. Temperature and rainfall are shown in a graph to demonstrate the impact of climatic change on each paddock:
Using modern technology, students are able to engage with farming practices in real time. Students follow the project on Twitter using the hashtag #4Dfarm and make use of virtual reality to immerse themselves in it. “Virtual reality is available to anyone with a mobile phone, wi-fi access and a $20 Google Cardboard [viewer],” says Barber.
When he presented the project to primary school children, Barber says he received “a great reaction to the farms” not just that but also a positive response to the technology he uses. This could be all it takes for one or more of those students to visit a real farm.
What other methods can we use to inspire the next generation of farmers?
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Use medicines responsibly (www.noah.co.uk/responsible). Date of preparation: March 2018 AH175/18