Outdated image of farming creates agricultural skills shortage, Easton College warns

An outdated image of farming that neglects the growing importance of technology is causing a worrying shortage of skilled workers, an agricultural college has warned.

Clive Bound, vice principal of Easton College near Norwich, said farming businesses, food production and prices could all suffer if more young people do not enter the sector and help build up a skilled work force base.

He said: 'If you have not got the experts percolating up to the top, research and development is going to be seriously impaired. If we can't have the trial work, that would restrict our ability to be flexible to adapt to climate change, of example.

'Clearly if the climate is changing then we will need to be using different farming techniques and crops that could be draught resistant. They only come around because of researchers.'

Norfolk and Suffolk supply 10.5pc of the UK's agricultural output, and 16pc of all jobs in the two counties are in the land-based sector.

Mr Bound pointed to research by Lantra, an organisation set up to develop skills in land-based industries, that said farming needed to recruit an additional 32,000 people by the year 2020.

He said one problem was that many people assumed that, as in the wider economy, there was a shortage of jobs, and that those that were exist were low skill.

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He said: 'People leaving school don't know there's a labour shortage. One of our roles is to try to inform careers advisors and school teachers that there are good opportunities in agriculture and land-based industries.

'People have an idea of agriculture that it's about farm labourers, but they don't exist any more and people working on farms are using hi-tech equipment.

'From the outside it does not look like a glamorous employment industry and some areas like media and IT have a higher profile, but yet we drive through agricultural food production land every day but do not quite see it.

'You would have thought that young people would have seen the opportunity, even if it is to drive a big shiny tractor.'

He said farm equipment has become increasingly advanced in recent years, with computers on combine harvesters monitoring how much grain is being collected and moisture levels, providing data that needs interpreting.

The vice principal said Easton College, which merged with Otley College in Suffolk this year, is working closely with employers to ensure its courses equip students with the skills the industry needs.

He said input from farmers has led to students spending time in college during the winter months when there is less work to do on the farm, and more time on farms during the summer learning practical skills.

He said they had also responded to farmers who wanted students to better understand health and safety before going out on a farm.

He said the college has course places available, and can offer advice about working in agriculture. See www.easton-college.ac.uk