Fresh crop of talent needed in farming

Dan Mason, Senior editor
July, 2015

A new generation of talented graduates are required in agriculture to help overcome some of society's biggest problems

What makes the sector even more interesting is that it's a catch-all term encompassing a range of potential careers, from engineering and sales to farm management and animal welfare.

As Grace Nugent, a consultant at specialist recruitment firm De Lacy Executive says, 'Agriculture is a dynamic, sophisticated and high-technology industry with countless opportunities for young people.'

She adds, 'Graduates have a choice of commercial and technical roles on progressive farms, or in the large number of global and regional companies involved with crops, livestock, machinery and food, to name a few.

'The agricultural industry can offer competitive financial rewards, coupled with significant opportunities to achieve your potential and a chance to feel part of a vibrant community.'

If that appeals to you, then farming could be a field worth exploring.

What roles are available?

'Prospects are generally very good, more so in the private rather than the public sector,' says Dr Iwan Gittins Owen, course coordinator for agriculture degrees at Aberystwyth University.

He points in particular to animal nutrition, farm management and agronomy (the science of crop production and soil management) as areas with good prospects for graduates.

The generation of baby boomers that entered the workforce in the 1970s and 1980s are nearing retirement, and that means openings are available.

'The late Sir Colin Spedding (an industry expert) stated in 2010 that the UK agricultural industry would need 60,000 new entrants, including 10,000 at graduate and management level, by 2020 just to sustain its workforce,' Iwan says.

To make yourself more employable, you should acquire business and IT skills in addition to gaining a scientific and technological understanding of the industry, he advises. A good degree, especially one that includes a year gaining practical experience and contacts in the industry, will give you an advantage.

There are many different paths that you could choose depending on your skills, interests and academic background. Among the most popular, Iwan says, are 'hands-on' careers including dairy herd, sheep flock or farm management in the UK and overseas. New Zealand is a favoured destination.

Alternatively there are consultancy and sales roles in areas such as animal nutrition or the agri-pharmaceutical industry, where you'll be advising clients but typically employed by a commercial manufacturer or supplier.

Or you could opt for administrative jobs, for example in the animal health and welfare departments of local government, or working on the likes of insurance and policy with farming unions.

There is a detailed explanation here of graduate jobs in environment and agriculture.

What are employers looking for?

According to Grace, while there is a shortage of people in the 20 to 40 age group within the sector, getting a graduate job is still extremely competitive.

'Employers seek applicants with good qualifications, personal motivation and a willingness to learn,' she says. 'Strong communication and team playing skills will also be required. Employers will be particularly interested in applicants who have gained some experience of practical farming.'

To find out more about the qualifications you'll need, see getting a job in environment and agriculture.

Once you've got your foot in the door, it is a sector that offers newcomers the chance to progress and build a lasting career.

As an industry, agriculture faces many significant obstacles that are vitally important for the wider society - notably the increasing demand for food as the global population grows. Talented new graduates could be the ones to overcome them.

'Dwindling resources, climate change and the need to both protect and enhance the environment provide extremely challenging but rewarding opportunities, where the adoption of new technologies and development of precision management techniques rival any other sector or industry,' Iwan says.

'Agriculture and farming are once again viewed not only as respectable but invaluable, after many decades of very negative perceptions.'