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Agricultural Education & Careers

Millennials in agriculture: 3 key qualities the next generation has to offer

Millennials get plenty of bad press, but is it time to forget what you’ve been told and help encourage them into the agriculture industry? With their ideas and energy, they clearly have much to offer.

As someone who’s often the #TokenMillennial in meetings, I couldn’t resist responding to the story Jane Craigie recently wrote about her experience of hiring a millennial and setting up the fantastic Rural Youth Project initiative.

I have been working in the agricultural industry now for nearly three years, and my career so far has been dynamic to say the least. I have been thrilled by the opportunity to directly apply my degrees and experience of working with local food movements during my student years to a career that attempts to communicate more effectively the complexities of the global food system.

However, like every career, there have been challenges. Namely, my age (90s kid) my height (well under 6ft), and my gender! (Don’t worry; I know it has been #IWD18 recently, so I have already filled my one-day quota of uncomfortable gender truths for this year.)

Jane wrote in her article that “young people bring vibrancy, ideas and energy…vital for the future of rural communities and the wider rural economy,” and it’s these three key aspects of young people that I want to reflect on, and wholeheartedly agree with, based on my own experience of these young and driven agricultural visionaries.

Vibrancy: Young people are seeking careers in agriculture

The UK government is starting to recognise the need to accommodate a new workforce and a new set of skills.

DEFRA Secretary of State Michael Gove spoke at the National Land Based College event in November, and more recently MP Julian Sturdy member of the Environment Food and Rural Affairs Committee reiterated Adam Henson’s call for a GCSE in Agriculture.

What they recognised is that if government, industry and the general public are demanding a more sustainable future for food and farming in the UK, they need to also have a sustained workforce that matches the skills required for modern agriculture.

Fortunately, we are seeing a changing landscape where there is also a growing desire by young people to tackle some of the biggest challenges facing our world today. But how do we educate the general public, who are not necessarily informed about agriculture, and how do we create accommodating environments for these vibrant, passionate agricultural visionaries to thrive and grow in the agri-food workforce?

Ideas: entrepreneurship and creativity

Open innovation has been in vogue now in agriculture for a good few years, and it only continues to flourish, bolstered by the Government’s Industrial Strategy.

At the Sentry Conference this year, Alan Jagoe, Past President of CEJA, spoke about the land mobility service in Ireland, through rural youth organisation Macra na Feirme. This model has proven to be a huge success in Ireland, and actively encourages partnerships between young farmers, and established farmers who are seeking for someone to succeed the business.

Energy: inclusive agricultural policy requires active participants

As I commented recently to a room of Scottish farmers in Kelso, policy should be a framework which helps an industry and the agri-food sectors to flourish, rather than a hindrance that slows down innovation and threatens businesses with extinction.

If there is anything that Millennials can bring to the table, it is their energy and enthusiasm for participation, partnership and collaboration. I have written much about my experience of the Youth Agricultural Summit, but it remains one of the strongest examples of young people seeking to make a tangible, sustainable difference to food governance at local, national and global scales.

The same energy that young people are pouring in to movements like the Summit, or the Thought For Food Challenge, is magnified through the 4th agricultural revolution; developments in AI, new plant breeding innovations, and other scientific advances have created more impetus for entrepreneurialism, but the infrastructure and governance of the agri-food sectors need to become more flexible and accommodating.

Finally, I’ll leave you with this to ponder on… Maybe you should stop wondering what to do about the Millennials, and figure out how we can engage Generation Z!

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