Farming is a high-tech, highly skilled industry

A few years ago, we entertained a group of school career advisors for the day on the farm. It’s well publicised that the farming work force is getting older and we have a real shortage of skilled motivated young entrants.

The day with the career advisors highlighted a very scary realism for us, that the outside world sees farmers as not the brightest. Straw chewing, dungaree wearing simpletons who spend all day shovelling manure and are content in a simple ‘good life’ scenario, was more the impression the visitors had!

We made every career advisor sit in our brand new £190,000 tractor; told them that if they could start it, they could take it home! Most struggled to climb the steps let alone find the key, they then sat in bewilderment because they were looking at what one described as a ‘spaceship fuselage’! ‘Where’s the gear stick? Why are there four computer screens? I’ve never seen so many buttons? I didn’t realise tractors had cabs!

This was after we had taken them through the farm’s in-house skill-set that we and our employees have: business management, marketing, IT, chemistry, biology, physics, maths, language, accountancy. Practical skills; welding, woodwork, wiring, machinery repairs, ploughing, fork lift driving, 360 digger certificates, crop sprayer CPD. And then there are the wildlife skills; habitat maintenance, species knowledge, food webs and habitat creation.  Beyond our farm gates is the wider support network of the skills we class as specialist, which people could aspire to do but still be involved with in our industry: agronomists, accountants, lawyers, HR, recruitments, builders, electricians, plumbers, scientific researchers, machinery fitters. The list of skills we use weekly is endless; the variety of skills required by farmers and farm employees today is occupation treasure for anyone looking for their vocation! The career advisors were openly shocked, one apologised at the end of the day saying that previously ‘they would only push the bottom of the class, those non-enthused trouble maker children towards farming, as they weren’t seen to have the skills or drive to do anything else!’

Photo by Christopher Burns on Unsplash

Practical skills meet a vast array of intellectual skills on farms around the country. Photo by Christopher Burns on Unsplash

As our family expands, I don’t think any nephew, Godchildren or friends’ toddlers have not been fascinated by tractors and farm animals at an early age. Story books, one after another, get so many children interested in farming but then what? Where does that early farming enthusiasm go? Farm wages are rising as business search for the best candidates with all the skills needed in modern agriculture.

Farming is a high tech, a highly skilled industry driven by improving efficiencies to feed a world population that in your life time will double! The responsibility of producing the food to feed the world population of 8 billion, today falls to a relatively very small number of people. Farmers of the future will need to do it on even tighter budgets, within even tighter environmental constraints and the demand will never drop! We need more school leavers from both the top and bottom of the class as they in turn will bring new enthusiasm, skill and ideas to keep up with that demand for sustainable healthy food.



Brian and his cousin Patrick run E.J. Barker & Sons, a family farm partnership and contracting business in Suffolk dating back to 1957. The 667ha arable farm business is farmed on 12 - and nine-year rotations, incorporating winter wheat for feed, spring barley, herbage grass seed, oilseed rape and a break crop of beans, linseed or peas. Environmental consideration is crucial to the running of the business, and remains a key factor in all decision-making on farm.