This was the message given to visitors at the National Fruit Show in Detling, Kent, last month by NFU horticulture adviser Chris Hartfield.
Addressing the crowd as part of a Speaker's Corner presentation organised and hosted by Horticulture Week on attracting and supporting new entrants to the industry, Hartfield urged growers to give their views on the recommendation in the Fruit & Vegetable Task Force's final report published last month (Grower, 29 October).
Hartfield said: "The NFU was part of this task force that was set up to identify barriers to increasing fruit and vegetable production and consumption. One of the recommendations was the need to attract young people into the industry."
He continued: "The task force has endorsed this approach but ultimately it is up to growers to drive this forward. The NFU has already started the consultation process with some other key organisations, such as Lantra and the Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board, but now we would like to invite you to give your views on this approach".
He added that while several initiatives had been developed during the past few years to improve the perception and development of horticulture, the industry needed a special representative to bring it all together.
"If we are to achieve our aim of reconnecting with young people, we will need an individual - a horticultural tsar - committed to driving this agenda forward," he said.
Among the initiatives already set up are the introduction of the diploma in environmental and land-based studies for 14-19-year-olds, the launch of the Grow initiative to promote horticulture to school leavers making career choices and the setting up of the AgriSkills Strategy, one of the aims of which is to promote the food production industry as a professional and progressive place to work.
Hartfield told growers that aside from joining up these initiatives, the "tsar" or "skills champion" would also have to help the industry give better recognition to the valuable skills that are gained "on the job".
"The Government's approach has tended to focus on skills and formal qualifications so the value of training on farms has received less attention," he pointed out.
Hartfield added that extending horticultural education from primary schools into secondary schools would be another part of the role - and was another key aim of the task force.
CATCH THEM YOUNG
The Grow initiative website www.growcareers.info has gained 40,000 visitors since it launched 18 months ago.
Horticulture Week and Grower publishing director Richard Watts told visitors at the National Fruit Show: "We are pleased because it's gone from zero users to 40,000 in a short space of time"
The initiative was set up four years ago in an attempt to help attract more school leavers into horticulture.
As part of the development of its website, Grow members spoke to careers advisers and young people to find out how to "get horticulture in the front of the minds of school leavers".
Watts said: "It became clear that the terminology used in the industry - such as 'growing' and 'fresh produce' - was not used in the national curriculum. Our website therefore uses terms used in school."