Agriculture is a smart career move
Agriculture is now the fastest-growing subject at British universities, with a 4.6% increase in student numbers last year, according to the environment minister, Elizabeth Truss. There are now more than 19 000 people studying it and related subjects.
As a farming graduate, this sudden growth doesn’t surprise me. I studied at Harper Adams University (HAU), which specialises in agri-food and rural studies. In 2013-2014, 96% of students who graduated from HAU and its associated colleges were employed or in education six months after completing their course.
You may have thought a degree in agriculture is solely designed for farmers. But the degree is diverse. Graduates who don’t go on to farms are employed by food retailers and suppliers. They can work in research and technology, consultancy, education, marketing or the media.
I’m from a farming background; I was born and bred on a family farm in the hills of North Wales. After my A-levels, I began my four-year course and spent the third year working on a large mixed livestock farm in the Scottish Borders. I graduated in September last year.
The majority of my fellow students were either from a country or a farming background, or had an interest in food, animals or engineering.
I have fond memories of my time as a student farmer, along with some rather hazy ones from the student union bar. There’s nothing better than an early morning crop walk to cure a hangover.
My course helped me prepare for taking over the family business. Further education is critical for young farmers to be able to run an efficient and profitable farm. Degree modules such as agricultural business development taught me how to put plans together, calculate gross margins and forecast cash flows.
Despite the rise in undergraduate numbers, there is still a numbers shortage. BBC One’s Countryfile recently devoted a whole episode to young people in agriculture. Adam Henson, a farmer and Countryfile presenter, believes that to maintain its existing workforce, British agriculture needs to recruit 60 000 newcomers over the next decade.
There are many difficulties facing today’s farmers in Europe and elsewhere – climate change, market volatility and reliance on subsidies. Meanwhile, farming is an ageing occupation, with the average farmer in the United Kingdom now aged 59.
But, to my mind, these problems provide opportunities. We need to ensure that young people are encouraged to enter the sector – and they need to be provided with the means and the knowledge to do so.
After all, we farmers are the custodians of the countryside, producing food for the planet and maintaining the environment we live in. The world will always need food. – © Guardian News & Media, 2016
Joe Parry was named agricultural student of the year at the British Farming Awards in 2015