Noisy groups of teenagers wearing a strict uniform of hot pants, aviator sunglasses and wellies stream past security into a music tent.

They could be at any one of the summer’s music festivals. But this is the young farmers’ area at the Royal Welsh Agricultural Show, in Powys, Mid-Wales.

Despite the huge numbers of enthusiastic young people here, the average age of a farmer is 58.

 

The Image problem

More than 60,000 new farmers will be needed over the next decade in order to provide enough food for the rest of us.

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This attractive young farmers in the Yeo Valley advert challenge the stereotype of farmers

Despite unemployment among 16-24-year-olds standing at just over one million, few consider a career in farming where a good one might earn up to £60,000 a year.

This is partly because farming has an image problem.

A survey of young children carried out by Careers in Farming and Food Supply showed the industry was perceived as “boring, repetitive and low-paid”.

 

Technical job

In just one row of stands here at the Royal Welsh, fluttering banners advertise animal micro-nutrients and heavy machinery and offer a multitude of financial plans.

This tiny area of the show demonstrates that agriculture has become an increasingly technical, complex and challenging industry.

“You can use all sorts of skills as a farmer these days,” says Christine Tacon, Chairman of UK Farming plc.

Farming has become increasingly technical

Beyond an obvious passion for the outdoors, farmers also need to excel at logistics and planning as well nurturing “softer” skills, like people management.

“Imagine you’ve hired 2,000 workers from various countries in eastern Europe. Getting them to work harmoniously together is going to be a challenge,” explains Ms Tacon.

 

UK FARMING FACT

6,000 new entrants needed every year
1,000 of these for management roles
50%-70% of recruits come from higher education
Up to 47% agricultural workers are migrants

Source: Royal Agricultural Society of England report, 2009

 

In a bid to tempt some fresh meat into the industry, Farmers Weekly has launched Farmers Apprentice – a competition in which 10 people aged between 18 and 25 will battle it out in a farming “boot camp” for a week, carrying out some of the toughest tasks.

 

Resisting peer pressure

Gareth Barlow grew up in Reading, and when his non-farming friends and family found out that his dream was to become a farmer, they tried to put him off.

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“They said there was no future in it and I’d never make any money. I guess I wanted to prove them wrong,” he said.

He has continued to add to the small flock of sheep he bought as a 17-year-old, and now has more than 500.

Gareth Barlow left university to strike out on his own as a farmer

Gareth also trained as butcher and has sold his meat to Michelin-starred chefs, like Marcus Wareing.

“Farming has to be a business,” he says. “You’re a businessman first, then a farmer”.

He acknowledges that farming is not always the most glamorous of jobs, and can be very hard work.

“You’re working with and against nature,” he says. “You have to be prepared to do anything, so if a ewe’s having trouble birthing, you do have to get stuck in.”

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