Saturday, 7 December 2013

Cultivating brains for the future of farming

Agricultural students - the future of farming
I sort of knew this would happen. Over the last 20 years or so, I have watched agricultural colleges either shut down completely or close their agricultural courses, preferring to offer “equine studies” or “countryside management” instead – not that there is anything wrong with these courses – but how short sighted have they been in no longer offering practically based pure agricultural courses?

It is estimated that food production will have to increase by 70% in the next 40 years to feed a growing world population. It will have to try doing so with the same agricultural footprint, and without depleting our natural resources or destroying our environment. A huge ask indeed.

Meanwhile, estimates suggest that UK agriculture needs 60,000 more workers for optimal productivity, and to be internationally competitive the sector will require graduates with advanced problem-solving skills.

There are currently 7,000 agriculture students graduating from UK universities and colleges each year (and I wonder how many of those genuinely have practical skills) – insufficient to replace the 10,000 or so leaving the industry through retirement, never mind increasing their numbers.

Agricultural businesses must work with universities and colleges to design courses that will produce graduates fit for the future; they should offer student placements to ensure that graduates get the business and practical skills essential to their future employment. Government too, should support training programmes and look to promote careers in agriculture.

What is more, they need to get on with it right away.

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