EARLIER this month, Julian Sturdy MP called for a GCSE to be introduced in agriculture – and we couldn’t agree more.
Farming is changing radically. It is estimated that there will be nearly 10 billion people on the planet by 2050 and, as such, the world’s farmers need to produce more food than we ever have before.
The emphasis is now on research and technology. Environment Secretary Michael Gove identifies both farm productivity and environmental enhancement as key performance indicators, and we need to support the next generation of farmers to think in those terms.
Precision farming methods are increasingly being adopted and as they continue to develop there needs to be an understanding of how to utilise equipment, machinery and robotics more effectively.
We also need to change the perception of farming to reflect modern farming practices and to attract people from a non-farming background into the industry.
It’s not just mucking out or sitting on a tractor, agriculture covers a wide skill-set and we really need young, talented and broadminded individuals to drive the sector forward. A GCSE in agriculture could incorporate strands of engineering, science, food technology, business studies and geography to offer comprehensive training as well as encouraging students into a career they may never have known existed.
It is also vital that support is provided to secondary school teachers through training and advice to highlight the value and the opportunities that agriculture can offer.
Here at Yorkshire Agricultural Society, we already run successful events for primary school children and primary school teachers and these are often oversubscribed.
However, we are making a concerted effort to develop the way we support secondary school teachers and students and we are setting up a secondary school teacher’s advisory group to help drive YAS’s work forward.
We are also developing our offering at the Great Yorkshire Show, where we have hands-on learning experiences, careers advice and the best of British agriculture showcased – we want to make this more accessible for secondary schools.
We do offer school trip discounts to encourage attendance at the show and we have more than 5,000 students attending over the three days. For schools who don’t organise an official trip, headteachers sometimes feel they can’t authorise a day out to the show and sadly we’ve seen a drop in families bringing their children because of this.
We understand the dilemma but it is something we would like to change. This has to come from the top. There needs to be a recognition from the Government of the importance of agriculture and of the Great Yorkshire Show in educating children about food, farming and the countryside. This would then allow headteachers to give the go-ahead for families to bring their children to the show without the fear of it being marked as unauthorised.
Although this isn’t an issue in Scotland where it is very much seen as an educational trip to visit the Royal Highland Show, the struggle to engage secondary schools is an issue in England.
This can change by bringing it on to the secondary school syllabus and there is a definite appetite out there to learn.
We are working hard to engage and support secondary students and teachers here at YAS but agriculture now needs recognition at the highest level to ensure we keep ahead of the game as an industry.
So Mr Sturdy’s move to bring agricultural education to the top of agenda is applauded. Our message is that we are here at the YAS to drive this forward and support all we can.
Nigel Pulling is chief executive of Yorkshire Agricultural Society.