Lord de Mauley speech at the Fertile Minds conference

Lord de Mauley addressed the Fertile Minds conference on the opportunities for young people in agriculture

This was published under the 2001 to 2005 Labour government

Lord de Mauley

I’m delighted to join you at this event.

First, because I’m fascinated to see such a unique example of farm diversification in these wonderful facilities.

But, more importantly, because it’s so refreshing to see an audience full of young entrepreneurs. I’m sure you are all at different stages of your career – some of you may still be studying, some of you may be trying to forge a career path in farming, and hopefully a good number of you are well on the way to to achieving your ambitions. Whatever stage you are at, you’re all here to share ideas, learn from each other, and be successful in the industry.

I note the headline of this conference is ‘You love farming, and you love business’. That is a message I can very much sign up to.

This government wants to make British farming a world leader. A leader in providing a sustainable supply of food for the UK market and for export. A leader in animal welfare and the way we manage the countryside. And a leader in technology, in research and innovation. We want to see this industry grow and flourish.

But an industry is only as good as the people in it. We need talented young people – people with the skills and passion to make a success of their career. We need a diverse set of people – both from farming and non-farming backgrounds. It shouldn’t matter if you choose academic study at university or college, or vocational courses and apprenticeships. It doesn’t matter if you want to manage farms, or to support farming through research or engineering. There is a huge range of opportunities throughout the industry for all sorts of people with different strengths.

Whatever career path you choose there will be challenges. Some of you will be familiar with the excellent work of David Fursdon and others on the Future of Farming Review last year.

This group examined many of the issues that new entrants into farming must face. Securing land and tenancies and obtaining the right training and mentoring. Affordable housing and access to finance. What the report did was bring together in one place a summary of those challenges which has helped shape in the work of Defra ever since. I know that there have been a number of follow up pieces of work that Farmers Weekly and others have been involved in.

Some of these challenges are best tackled by you on industry; with others, Government can help to create the right conditions and legal framework; and on many of the issues, we need to work together. I recently got together with industry leaders to examine some of these challenges in the context of one particular sector – ornamental horticulture. What struck me was the huge contrast between the potential of the sector to grow, to compete and fill markets, and the difficulty in attracting, in particular, young people to take up careers in the ornamental sector. Somehow we need to promote the huge opportunities that exist for rewarding farming careers.

But those of you here are already signed-up.

And here’s what Government is doing to help.

We are now at a key point with the Common Agricultural Policy. The negotiating is largely done and the legislation is in place. Now we need to make the new policies happen. We will have a new basic payment scheme for farmers. Around three percent of that budget will be used to set up a national reserve in 2015. Every year the reserve will be used to create entitlements for young farmers and new farmers in England. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will be setting up their own national reserves.

So if you have five hectares of eligible land at your disposal, and are in control of your business, you’ll be able to use this reserve to obtain entitlements.

There is then a new component to the basic payment scheme itself. If you apply for the basic payment, and you are between 18 and 40 years old, and took control of your farm business in the last 5 years, you will be entitled to an increase to your payment. The increase will be up to twenty five percent of the average value of your entitlements, up to a limit of 90 entitlements. You can apply for this as part of your normal payment claim, so before 15 May next year.

We are also building a new Rural Development Programme for England. This gives us some exciting new opportunities to develop support in new areas. We’ve listened to feedback about what could work. Defra is working closely with farming organisations to consider how the Programme can offer you grant funding for investment in equipment and technology. How it can encourage collaborative working between young farmers and researchers to scope meaningful research that you can apply in the field to tackle difficult issues. We are considering how we can provide start up support for people wanting to set up a new farm businesses. We are also looking at projects that will support groups of farmers who come together and tackle difficult problems such as endemic livestock disease, ammonia emissions or risks to water quality.

We also need skilled new entrants who are able to meet the challenges that agriculture will face in the future. We are creating support in the new Rural Development Programme for skills, knowledge exchange and demonstration to help you to take up learning opportunities throughout your career in continued professional development.

Increasingly as farming becomes more innovative, it will be more and more important for farmers to be IT and technology savvy, and to be willing to take risks and experiment with new technology and practices. As the younger generation you are ideally placed to make the most of this – you have grown up as an IT and technology savvy generation and you have the potential to be real innovators. There’s no doubt that as the next generation you will be vital in grabbing the opportunity new technology and innovation can bring and driving forward change so that this industry remains competitive and profitable.

It is important however that innovation is not stuck in a research institute or lab, but gets moved onto the farm and used in practice. We have recognised that Government has a role in helping that to happen. That’s why we are investing £160m in the Agri-Tech strategy to help put agriculture at the forefront of the agricultural revolution.

I know that you are having some workshops this afternoon and I apologise that I’m not able to stay for those. I know that you are looking at succession planning and this is something that Defra is keen to encourage. It is a vital part of managing a successful business and planning for all eventualities. It will ensure we can support young people entering the sector with the right introduction, whilst capturing the valuable knowledge accrued by those moving on.

Indeed if we can be open minded about business succession, then we can start to think pragmatically about different models for developing businesses in the future. I know for many of you, the aspiration will be to own your own business. Undoubtedly this should be an achievable aspiration. But it may take time.

What we need to do is create a series of stepping stones, between starting out in farming, and obtaining your own holding. Stepping stones that allow you to develop your skills and professionalism. To build your experience and establish a track record that will enable you to obtain both finance and interesting opportunities.

There are many ways to develop experience and business acumen, to develop an understanding of farming and supply chains by working in larger farms and organisations, or through apprenticeships and trainee programmes.

I then want to look at ways for people to gradually build assets and a stake in a business. Joint venture is a key part of this – I was pleased to see the guidance on share farming published by the CLA not so long ago. I’d love to see more opportunities like this – critical to it working is for experienced farmers to come forward with a willingness to take on a mentoring role and share their business. For those who are reaching a stage where they may want to start to step back, share farming could be a real opportunity.

But ultimately it is for each of you to choose your own path, and however you decide to embark on or develop your careers I wish you every success. I have no doubt that you have chosen a profession which is both hugely rewarding and important to our food security and management of the countryside.

Published 27 November 2014