As global warming increases, young people currently in their teens, 20s, 30s, and early 40s will be the ones to bear the brunt of climatic changes, plus the responsibility of transitioning the agri-food system towards net zero by 2050. For those who are farmers, land managers and food producers, what challenges will they face? What opportunities might there be? What skills and education will they need? How will rural and farming careers need to be reimagined? How do young people feel about this, and what are their concerns? Dr Richard Byrne, senior lecturer at Harper Adams University and manager of the Rural Resilience Research Group, lead us through some of these questions, challenge the idea of what being a ‘farmer’ will mean in 2050, and how entrepreneurial young people today will be able to find opportunities in the years ahead. Sophie Gregory, first generation organic dairy farmer, and Luke Cox, vice chair of the National Federation of Young Farmers’ Clubs (NFYFC), young farmer and agricultural professional himself, also outline their hopes, ambitions, worries, and thoughts on the future of farming for their generation.
This was a joint webinar between AFN Network+ and the NFYFC, held in National Young Farmers’ Week 2023.
Richard has over 25 years of practical academic experience in land management and food security. He has worked in a variety of challenging environments including Afghanistan, Angola, Nigeria and Zambia. With colleagues drawn from across the University and Ph.D. researchers, he manages the Rural Resilience Research Group (3RG) which focuses on stressors in the rural environment such as policy implementation, climate change and farm crime. Richard’s research is currently focused on opportunities for regenerative agriculture and integrated land management resulting from the Agriculture Act 2020. Richard's teaching is focused on agricultural policy, global food commodities trade, and their relationship to geopolitics and climate change. He has a particular interest in agricultural policy and climate adaptation and the Black Sea grain trade. He also advises a number of Government departments, commercial organisations, and NGOs on the interface of food security, climate change, and conflict.
Sophie is a first generation organic dairy farmer, and farms with her husband Tom on the Dorset / Devon / Somerset border. They farm 1,200 acres through tenancies, with Sophie in charge of their 360 dairy cows and followers, and Tom in charge of the new arable venture and chard growing. Sophie is involved in two regenerative farming pilots - with Arla (who she sells milk to) and Yeo Valley. She’s also researching mob grazing as part of an Innovative Farmers’ Field Lab and offers conservation grazing to a rewilding project. Sophie isn’t from a farming background and left her job in accountancy when she fell in love with cows. Tom’s family do farm but there’s no farm to take on, so the couple started on their own nine years ago. Sophie says her non-farming background helps her think outside the box; “I know that as part of farming cows, I’m now not just farming cows - it’s increasingly a mix of farming for food, carbon, and biodiversity. We are setting ourselves up to sequester as much as possible through the crops we grow and how we manage the farm. We also bring people onto the farm to create that connection, so that they understand where food comes from and are more prepared to pay for well-produced food. So it’s about the bigger picture.” Sophie won Dairy Industry of the Year in 2021.
Luke is vice chair of the NFYFC. He grew up on his family’s farm in Gloucestershire, where he has helped out throughout his life, and his career to date has been in a variety of allied industries. He worked part-time for an agricultural engineering business and on a neighbouring arable estate before studying at Reading University and then entered full-time employment at Frontier Agriculture before a couple of years in rural insurance. Six months ago he became an agricultural policy adviser, and he hopes to continue working in this alongside staying involved in the family farm, which he lives nearby. Luke says; “The future of farming is exciting, not least because change always brings about opportunity. The current ‘next generation’ will be farming in the years when net zero is targeted to be achieved by, and so working with government policy whilst still producing enough food to ensure our food security is going to be a real challenge for the industry.”
Jez Fredenburgh is the Knowledge Exchange Research Fellow for AFN Network+, based at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia. Before this, she was an agri-food journalist for 10 years, writing for Farmers Weekly, Farmers Guardian, BBC, and National Geographic. She has also worked as an editor with the Sustainable Food Trust, Grantham Institute (Imperial College), Food Farming and Countryside Commission, Soil Association, WWF and the Prince’s Countryside Fund. Follow Jez on Twitter.
About the NFYFC:
The National Federation of Young Farmers' Cubs is one of the largest rural youth organisations in the UK dedicated to young people who have a love for agriculture and rural life. Led by young people, for young people, Young Farmers' Clubs provide their 19,000 members aged 10 to 28 with a unique opportunity to develop skills, work with their local communities, travel abroad, take part in a varied competitions programme and enjoy a dynamic social life. NFYFC is a member of the AFN Network+. Follow NFYFC on Instagram.
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UK Research has funded this Network+ with the support of these 4 councils:
The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)
Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)
Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)
Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)