DESPITE EVER increasing connectivity in rural areas and the development of rural technologies and digital strategies, maintaining a young workforce within the rural economy is a growing concern. Young people are exposed through social media to a 9-5 office lifestyle in an urban environment and are being more and more tempted to relocate to these areas to find employment.

Speaking at the 11th OECD Rural Development Conference, Conservative MP Lord Duncan of Springbank, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Scotland and for Northern Ireland, addressed this issue by explaining how vital it was that young people see farming as a lucrative career choice – not one forced upon them by their family. With less and less family generation farms, there was, he said, a need to inspire a new, future generation of rural workers.

“The key thing is to make sure young people see farming as a lifestyle choice not just as a sentence passed on by their father. Farming doesn’t offer a 9-5 job lifestyle but it brings many other rewards and it is our job to highlight the positives of working within the rural economy and within the Scottish and UK Governments, to make sure not to place obstacles in the way of young farmers.

“We need to make sure that farmers get the maximum level of support without the burden of bureaucracy and the challenges that it can bring. There are young people who want to enter the sector – it’s working out how we can encourage and support them in to a new life which isn’t dependant on inheritance. We need to sell the success story of our food and drinks industry much more effectively and help farmers realise the fantastic market opportunities awaiting them within the industry,” stated Lord Duncan.

Fiona Hyslop MSP, Cabinet Secretary for External Affairs, Scotland added: “Making sure we have routes into farming for new entrants is an important part of our government’s rural policy and it is also important we recognise and respect the work and contribution of the farming community.”

European Commissioner for Agriculture, Phil Hogan, explained that the problem of attracting a young workforce existed Europe-wide but there were opportunities within the bioeconomy which he hoped would help address these challenges.

“Only 6% of the ownership of our farms in the EU are less than 40 years old," he noted. "This is a big problem which needs to be addressed imminently. Young people have a lot of other choices now which we never had when our fathers and grandfathers were on the farming scene. We are now having to look at how we can add more value to agriculture to make it worthwhile and to attract much needed younger blood.”

“There has been a lot of emphasis on opportunities within the bioeconomy, where agriculture and forestry can play a big part. According to the Directorate-General for Research and innovation, in Brussels, 700,000 new jobs can be created in rural areas within the bioeconomy. This makes for a hopeful opportunity, where we want to see farmers getting value out of this sector rather than external investors. Our big job is to make sure this message gets translated to farmers,” concluded Mr Hogan.