Knowing To Grow Project
Digital farm recently attended a workshop lead by the Sustainable Places Research Institute in Cardiff for their project Knowing to Grow. The full title of the project is 'Knowing to Grow: Increasing the Resilience of plant Centred Food Production Skills' and it was launched with the intention of exploring the impact of social factors on the regulation of agri-tech. It has a specific focus on horticultural production and supply chains, working from food systems in Wales out to the UK and other parts of Europe.
About the project
One of the main challenges that the Knowing to Grow project wishes to research is the impact of Britain leaving the EU and the increasing concern as to who will be there to harvest the crops. Agricultural labour, such as harvesting, is typically undertaken by overseas nationals and EU migrants but with the impact of Brexit on such individuals the media is reporting that produce will start to rot where it grows. But this is a symptom of a longer standing, broader trends which the research seeks to understand.
The project wants to communicate between academics, stake holders & policy makers with the aim of creating a greater cohesive understanding between the parties as to what the social as well as political impacts are on horticulture. This cohesive understanding will be encouraged to be applied to food security policy with the view of making horticulture in Wales more productive and efficient through innovative methods.
The project's findings so far…
The workshop focused around discussions on how best to move forward with the findings that the project had uncovered so far. The first finding that the project has drawn was that there is a clear shortage of horticultural labour. This labour shortage is not just one of seasonal labour but it is clear that permanent labour is also in short supply.
One contributory factor to the shortage of labour is that the industry is not attractive to young individuals. This could be a result of education on agriculture being underfunded, especially in higher levels of education. Many educational facilities are claiming that because of these shortages many classes cannot be maintained. These shortages and reduction in education is not just prevalent in the UK, it is a phenomena spread across Europe that is surrounding more generally the manual labour industry. This decline in skilled manual labour is a result of numerous factors including social factors, so much so that it is hard to understand where to tackle first in order to re-boost the agricultural labour sector.
So why aren't people choosing a career in horticulture? The first hurdle that people fall at is the image that surrounds the industry. The labour jobs are perceived as dirty and back breaking work which is off putting to potential workers. Furthermore, due to the power of supermarkets driving down horticultural prices, times are tough for workers and subsequently this is not an attractive industry to go into.
Another problem that has been identified is the lack of unity across the sector. There are so many separate organisations that collective planned action in order to boost the sector's image & participation is difficult to achieve, thus further spiralling the lack of attraction.
Another point to add is that the dependency of the UK agricultural industry on imported labour has resulted in a diminishing investment in the training process. The labourers who are coming from overseas are trained in their home country. Our industry in the UK is no longer acknowledging the importance of training as they are relying on pre-trained labourers.
What has been tried so far to reinvigorate out agricultural industry?
Numerous promotional campaigns have been put in place alongside policy groups working closer with the government to attempt a revival in the industry. However, it is clear from the continuing concern around the need for more manual labour that these actions have not been effective in attracting more workers.
To overcome this there is a recognition that there needs to be a greater collaboration within the industry as well as with the industry and the government. As identified, the sector does not have a unanimous voice and thus fragmented actions are taking place which will not be as strong as collective action. Greater promotion of the industry needs to be made at the educational level by creating a presence at careers fairs as well as online. It is also important to maintain training programs as even if people are attracted to learn more about agriculture, if the programs aren't there due to funding cuts then the promotional actions made cannot be followed through.
Outcome of the workshop - what the discussions highlighted
After the presentation of the project's initial findings, we broke into smaller focus groups in order to discuss what further actions could be taken to support the agricultural industry. The feedback from the discussion highlighted the importance of supporting horticultural activities in schools and identified that secondary schools were the most important gap to target. This stage in young people's lives is pivotal as this is the age that decisions are made in terms of colleges and universities. Increasing the visibility of the industry was another important factor highlighted that would support an increase in the manual labour force within food production. Currently visibility is poor and as a result people are simply unaware of the variety of job opportunities that are available.
The discussions that we had were very valuable and insightful. The project is ongoing and we anticipate the outcome of the final findings from the research by March 2021.