THE need for farming to nurture young people invariably comes to prominence each summer when there’s the annual angst over whether school pupils should be excused lessons to attend the Great Yorkshire Show. Yet, given that the average age of farmers in the UK is now 59 years, York Outer MP Julian Sturdy’s Parliamentary debate today will propose a GCSE exam in Agriculture.
He has a strong case that is already backed by TV’s Countryfile presenter Adam Henson. A comparable course already exists in Northern Ireland because of the farming industry’s importance to the economy there and, thanks to the advent of new technology, there’s far more to agriculture – and land management – than the milking of dairy herds. As such, young people here should not be denied the same chance to enhance their skills and follow their career choice – many hail from families rooted in the countryside while there will also be youngsters from urban areas with an affinity for farming and veterinary practice.
Britain can’t afford to get into a position where insufficient numbers of people actually want to engage in the vital work of producing food and managing the countryside. It needs to take action now and the Government’s new Industrial Strategy, coupled with an ongoing commitment to overhaul vocational and technical education, provides a timely opportunity to review the teaching of agriculture.
Of course, it would be impractical to expect every school to include the subject on its curriculum but it should be possible to make lessons in agriculture more widely available thanks to Mr Sturdy’s enthusiasm, Defra’s commitment and the presence here of respected organisations like Yorkshire Agriculture Society, Bishop Burton College and the CLA North. After all, countryside devotees need no reminding of the age-old adage ‘from a small seed a mighty trunk may grow’.