This industry is sailing headfirst into a crisis of its own making. Like the rest of the population, the workforce within agriculture is an aging one. In Scotland, the average age of a farmer is widely considered to be over 60, with the current retirement age standing at a mere 66.

Increasingly, it is becoming clear that young people who wish to get into the industry are having the door shut in their face at every level. If they are not privileged enough to be part of a farming family with a farm that they can inherit, it is becoming near enough impossible for them to get onto the ladder and buy land.

In my six years as part of the SAYFC Agri and Rural Affairs committee, we have conducted many surveys of our members. These happen most notably around major political events, such as Brexit and general elections. Time and time again, the main issues rising to the top of the agenda are access to land and access to funding.

The recent rush to buy thousands of acres of land, some of which being high quality food-producing land for tree planting has caused prices to sky-rocket. This has pushed it well out of the budget of any young person who may be looking to get a start in the industry.

Don’t get me wrong, if you are a farmer who owns land and you do not have anyone to take over from you, I can understand why you would sell your land at inflated prices for tree planting.

We do however need to get to a place as an industry where farmers who are ready to retire feel encouraged to either enter a shared farming agreement or give a young person the chance to buy their farm in order to get started in the industry.

I believe that the Scottish Land Matching Service is a fantastic organisation which has done great work in this field and can help with this. If anyone is looking to retire or give a young person the opportunity to start in the industry, please get in touch with them.

It is an accepted fact that many farmers simply do not retire when they are aged to do so, but there seems to be an archaic attitude in many corners towards the topic of succession and handing the reigns over to the next generation.

When it comes to funding for young people to get a start in the industry, the amount of red tape and restrictions can make the process far more difficult – or even impossible. Goverment, at both a UK and Scottish level must do more to ensure that funding is within the reach of young people and easier to access. Radical reform of funding mechanisms need to be provided to Banks, such as government backed Loan schemes. The existing Government Start Up Loans provide lending to a maximum of £25,000 and this should be expanded to provide additional funding to Agricuture due to the high capital expenditure experienced within our sector.

Brexit was supposed to give us the opportunity to set our own rules. The new agriculture bill should present radical changes in the way that subsidy and support is paid. In my view, the money which is currently spent on paying people just for simply owning land, should be spent on ensuring that the industry is secured and strengthened for years to come.

This could be done through supporting and funding young people to get started in the industry, but also on training those who simply just want to work in it. Training

and skills development is going to become a major issue in years to come. Many of those who wish to work in the industry do not have the required skills, meaning that a large amount of investment is going to be required in the future in order to train these workers to a safe level in order to do the job.

Recent world events have uncovered the fragility of our food systems. Covid caused shortages and backlogs, the Russia-Ukraine war has pushed material prices through the roof and recent wildfires and floods have shown just how unpredictable and cruel the changing weather patterns can be on both businesses as well as the individuals involved.

It is simple, if we are to continue to meet the demands of an ever-growing global population and also meet the climate change targets being imposed on us by government, we must protect our agricultural industry here at home and continue to make it more efficient.

This will not be possible if we continue to shut young people out and exclude them from the industry. Without them, the shelf life of this industry is going to be dramatically reduced, and in time we will move to being a country full of trees and imported food.

We need to get a grip on this situation before it gets any worse. The decisions and conversations you have now, no matter how difficult, could be the difference between the future and downfall of this industry. Don’t leave it too late!