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ON THE FARM: Make farming a career path for all background, ethnicities & genders

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Farming needs to be developed as a career path for young people to add a vibrancy and energy to the industry, farming columnist Joe Melody opines.

“I would do this for free”. Over the years since i stayed at home I have often said this to my friends and family about my career as a farmer. Granted there have been days when I have also said “There must be easier ways to make a living”. All in all there is nothing I’d rather be than a farmer and mostly there is nowhere I’d rather be than on my farm. I always knew that’s what I wanted to be from a young age and was lucky enough that my path to being a farmer was clear and straight.

From my experience though this is not always the case, beneficiaries of large farms are not always interested in a life on the land and on the other hand those who would love the opportunity to farm full time often don’t have the access to land or capital to begin their journey as a farmer.

It’s not just a trivial matter, the changing demographic of farming and the barriers to entry that go along with starting as a farmer affect all of us as consumers. This is a matter of food security and land use that will have ramifications for society for decades to come. The average age of a worker in the Tech industry is now 38, an industry that is full of vibrancy and innovation. Contrast this to the average Irish farmer being 59. It is thought that for an industry to remain energetic and vibrant it’s work force should average 35 years of age. But when those that are farming can’t get out, how can the young come in.

One of the biggest impediments to starting a farm is access to capital. Farming is a very capital intensive business, so you have a young person with enthusiasm to burn but no money to get started. The other end of the scale is the elderly farmer, his farm is his life’s work but has no one interested in taking it over. What I propose has to begin at school level. Make farming an actual career path for young people of all backgrounds, ethnicities and genders. Create a farm intern program where there is a register of farmers who have no identified successor and are interested in bringing some youthful enthusiasm to their business.

In schools when a student says she or he is interested in farming, they’re often told to consider agricultural science. This while a very fine course does not teach a young person how to become a farmer but rather steers them towards jobs in the industry as a whole. Worse again, well meaning but ignorant teachers or parents caution that there is no living to be made out of farming and that the student is capable of better than being a farmer. At the level of the parent this often reflects a vicarious need for credentialism to be bestowed upon their child with the attainment of a degree for a career that often times might not bring fulfilment or meaning to their child.

As a society we need to be more broad minded and open to farming as a career and more than that a lifestyle that can bring meaning from working with nature to feed the world.

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