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John Scott, Fearn Farm

Telling farming’s story and opening your farmgate to the public could help address the employment crisis in the sector according to Highland farmer John Scott.

Opinion piece - John Scott

Fearn Farm at Tain pre­pares to take part in Open Farm Sun­day on 12 June 2022, John writes:

Agri­cul­ture is fac­ing an employ­ment cri­sis, and yet I can’t help won­der­ing if the sec­tor is too reliant on oth­ers to resolve it, rather than doing some­thing direct.

At Fearn Farm, we have a strong team of young and expe­ri­enced peo­ple, span­ning many gen­er­a­tions. We val­ue their skills, ideas and enthu­si­asm, and see them very much help­ing shape the future of our busi­ness, not just work­ing in it. We pay fair­ly, pro­vide accom­mo­da­tion, encour­age train­ing and men­tor­ing and sup­port them to par­tic­i­pate in com­pe­ti­tions and writ­ing fea­tures to raise their own pro­file. In fact, just a few months ago, our Farm Admin­is­tra­tor, Emi­ly Mosley won the AgriScot Busi­ness Skills com­pe­ti­tion and a cash prize of £1000.

So, I am start­ing to won­der why we cur­rent­ly have vacan­cies that we are strug­gling to fill, and after speak­ing to some fel­low farm­ers, I am real­is­ing I am not the only one. Busi­ness­es across the UK are find­ing it dif­fi­cult to recruit new staff, despite offer­ing an excit­ing pack­age and career devel­op­ment prospects.

Many of our agri­cul­tur­al bod­ies and media have run very suc­cess­ful cam­paigns pro­mot­ing the wide range of careers avail­able, and that you don’t need to be from a farm­ing back­ground to enjoy the sec­tor. But we are speak­ing in our own echo cham­ber, tar­get­ing the same peo­ple that are already work­ing or liv­ing in farming.

We need to talk more out­side of the sec­tor, and we need to start doing it our­selves which also means push­ing our­selves out of our com­fort zone. Ini­tia­tives such as school vis­its and wel­com­ing organ­ised groups to the farm are excel­lent, and cer­tain­ly should be encour­aged, but if we want to change the per­cep­tion and attract new blood, we need to encour­age chil­dren and their par­ents to vis­it our farms, togeth­er. They need to see and hear what hap­pens on-farm, ask their ques­tions and fun­da­men­tal­ly go away inspired, and as excit­ed as we are by our indus­try, know­ing that their par­ents will then be con­tin­u­ing those con­ver­sa­tions with them at home.

After open­ing our hol­i­day cot­tage diver­si­fi­ca­tion busi­ness, I have recent­ly realised how var­ied the per­cep­tion is about farm­ing, and that we must be bold to change this. We need to work togeth­er, and we need to be more open and trans­par­ent. Events such as Open Farm Sun­day, where there is real­ly good prac­ti­cal sup­port from the ini­tia­tive organ­is­ers LEAF (Link­ing Envi­ron­ment and Farm­ing), have got to be the future way we inspire our new work­force. If just one child from every farm open­ing this year across Britain takes up a career in agri­cul­ture in 10 years’ time, that is hun­dreds of new recruits.

We will be host­ing LEAF Open Farm Sun­day this year because it helps us to share our sto­ry with con­fi­dence and reminds us why we do what we do. LEAF makes it easy with free mate­ri­als to share with vis­i­tors, guid­ance on how to run the event and the flex­i­bil­i­ty to run it in a way we feel com­fort­able with, and for, the num­ber of vis­i­tors we want to welcome.

We must do more; we can’t rely on oth­ers to tell our farm­ing sto­ry and we need to do it together.

John Scott, Fearn Farm, Tain

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