Demonstration farm event hears concerns over recruitment and retention of talent

'It's a long slog to get young people interested in horticulture - they don't see it as sexy,' says Plumpton College principal

Tangmere: glasshouse grower needs best people to expand business
Tangmere: glasshouse grower needs best people to expand business

Concern about the sector's ability to attract and retain enough talent to maximise its growth opportunities was expressed by industry figures at the launch of two LEAF demonstration farms earlier this month (see p31).

Tangmere Airfield Nurseries technical manager Mark Knight said: "We and others have a huge appetite to grow and expand, and we need the best people for that."

Eric Wall senior production manager Richard Kooijman said: "There is the same problem in the Netherlands. You need the word 'business' in the job title to attract people." The tomato grower incentivises worker productivity, and hence retention, with bonuses based on yield from the glasshouse area for which they are responsible.

Plumpton College principal Des Lambert added: "It's a long slog to get young people interested in horticulture - they don't see it as sexy. Some come to it later in life. But the industry doesn't sell itself well. People still think of it as gardening - either that or they want to drive tractors. But I say to them there is more technology in horticulture than in agriculture."

Eric Wall managing director Chris Wall pointed out that in this regard opening the doors of the West Sussex glasshouse complex is in the company's own interest.

"We want students to get a positive impression of the industry here," he said. "Open Farm Sunday also gives people the chance to see the technology involved."

LEAF chief executive Caroline Drummond added: "If you can get children interested before they reach the age of 11, you have a chance of keeping them."

Ongoing labour issues mean that "harvesting robots are coming, maybe in 20 or 30 years' time", said Knight.

"It's a logical next step on the journey we are on. But they have limitations - will they pick 100 per cent of the crop without damaging the plant? It's likely that they will be developed hand-in-hand with the breeding of plants that suit them. But we will still need staff to look after them."

Kooijman added: "Robots will happen - they are already being trialled for de-leafing tomato plants."

Campaign Colleges showcase the industry

The South of England Agricultural Society (SEAS) has formed a campaign with the region's colleges - including Plumpton, Sparsholt, Chichester, Berkshire, Hadlow and Merrist Wood - to attract young people to the food and farming sector.

They will jointly showcase what the industry has to offer at the South of England Show on 11-13 June. Schoolchildren will also be exhibiting their visions of farming in the future at the event in Ardingly, West Sussex.

SEAS vice-chairman Carole Hayward said: "The society plays a significant role in introducing young people to the countryside and is committed to the ongoing support of young people in the agricultural industry through its shows, events, competitions, bursaries and scholarships."


Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Sign up now
Already registered?
Sign in

Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus

Read These Next

How will reduced apple and pear harvests hit the industry?

How will reduced apple and pear harvests hit the industry?

This spring, many top-fruit growers in the UK and across Europe were dismayed to discover that swathes of their orchards had been hit by frost.

How should fruit growers prepare for water abstraction reform?

How should fruit growers prepare for water abstraction reform?

Upcoming reforms to water abstraction licensing will for the first time cap the amount of water that fruit growers can take for trickle irrigation.

Getting a measure of the production labour crisis

Getting a measure of the production labour crisis

At a debate during last week's Fruit Focus trade show in Kent, senior industry figures painted a bleak picture of an increasingly difficult seasonal labour market that is already impacting on investment.