Opinion: Better education is needed to attract the next generation of farmers

Are high schools educating our teenagers well in agriculture and the countryside? I do not think so.

Throughout high school, I received little to no education on either of these subjects.

In geography we were taught that farmers cause soil erosion through excessive tillage, while in biology we were told that cows produce methane, so they are responsible for global warming, melting ice caps and the flooding of islands like Hawaii.

See also: How these young farmers got their agricultural jobs

About the Author

Megz Swift is the daughter of a Cheshire farmer, studying ecology and conservation at the University of Central Lancashire, Preston.

Here, she argues that better communication is needed to encourage trainees to stay in the industry.

During these lessons, a discussion often ensued, but I think the vast majority of my classmates left the class with a negative view of agriculture and the countryside.

People at this stage of life are particularly impressionable and make important life choices, such as the lifestyle and careers they want. They need encouragement.

In 2019, as I collected my GCSE results, the few people who had chosen to go to an earthly college were ridiculed by other teenagers for making that choice.

I was one of those rare students to choose a Level 3 degree in Agriculture from Myerscough College in Lancashire.

As part of the course, the first year we had to do 360 hours of work experience. I had previously held part-time jobs on farms far from my parents’ farmland, so I was in a good position.

I worked every weekend until the Covid pandemic hit, then during Covid I worked flexibly around my online courses, completing over 500 hours in my second year.

Overall my experience was very positive as I moved from farm to farm seeing how each does things a little differently. It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, of course, characterized by 4am departures and late night arrivals.

This article isn’t about all of that, though; it’s about the communication between the younger and older generation, and what we can learn from it.

The most important thing for me was that my various employers kept their promises, whether it was opportunities to learn new skills, to develop existing skills, to have free time, flexibility around college or to be paid fairly.

When promises weren’t kept, I felt disappointed – disappointed not to progress and to move on.

Sometimes when I explained these issues, they were quickly resolved and my concerns acknowledged and addressed. But that wasn’t always the case, and on occasion I was just told to calm down and carry on.

Is it fair to young people, who often lack the confidence to voice their opinions for fear of disapproval or reprisal? It’s definitely something I’ve experienced.

So when young people speak up, employers need to listen to them and communicate what they think and why.

If they want new blood to continue flowing into the industry, they must also come up with plans for progression, to encourage the next generation and make them feel appreciated.

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