At the end of a year where the British food supply industry has seen a number of challenges, from tackling variable weather to beef contamination, Sainsbury’s has gathered the views of over 100 British farmers and growers to understand what 2014 might have in store for British food.
Contributing British farmers and growers span livestock through to fresh produce, and shared their views at the 2013 Sainsbury’s Farming Conference in December, to provide a unique first-hand perspective on one of the country’s biggest industries.
A sense of pride held by British food producers aligns with a strong sense of job satisfaction in the industry with almost half of those surveyed (49%), citing job satisfaction as the greatest attraction to the industry for young people.
Despite the fulfilment felt by those currently in the industry, an overwhelming 86% of the farmers and growers surveyed felt that there are not enough young people considering agriculture as a career choice. A lack of promotion of farming as a desirable career choice by the education system is seen as the main barrier for (35%) of those questioned, followed by a lack of opportunities for potential first generation farmers (27%) and poor public understanding of the industry (26%).
The average age of a farmer is over 50; therefore tackling the challenge to inspire the next generation of farming leaders is an area of focus for 2014 and beyond.
Sainsbury’s is creating a bespoke Apprenticeship Programme to provide an opportunity for growers and farmers to help recruit, train and employ new entrants and future talent. Working in partnership with the British Growers Association and Staffline Agriculture, pilot schemes will start in May and July 2014 to enable farmers and suppliers to engage with the next generation by sharing their knowledge and skills and in the process developing young people who can be directly employed in the industry.
Kitty Campbell is a 22 year old farmer on the Scottish Borders, along with her two sisters they farm hens: "Looking after my girls (hens) to get my own free range eggs has been hard work and long hours, but incredibly rewarding. I couldn’t imagine not working on a farm. There are so many exciting opportunities in the industry, you just need to look for them. I would really encourage any young people with a love for the outdoors to look at the agricultural sector as a brilliant career opportunity."
Almost a third (30%) see the variety of British produce on offer as the aspect of the industry that’s most improved in recent years. With investments in agricultural technology and science, extending the number of varieties available or the season length of existing varieties will be a trend that builds in 2014.
As an example, Sainsbury’s is working with Stockbridge Technology and Wallings Nursery in Essex to help extend the British strawberry season. With 17.3million punnets of British strawberries sold at Sainsbury’s during the 2013 season, it’s hoped that through the application of supplementary LED lighting, the season can be extended to give customers British fruit for more of the year.
Technology and better equipment is the aspect of the agricultural industry which has improved most in recent years according to 43% of respondents. At the same time, the demands of a growing population mean more innovative approaches are needed in agriculture.
During the summer of 2013, Sainsbury’s announced how it was working closely with the Government to make the UK a world leader in agricultural science and at the Farming Conference in December, Sainsbury’s handed out over £1million in grants to its farmers and growers to invest in research and development projects.
These projects are set to improve animal health and welfare, efficiencies and supply chain resilience and the development of new products or processes which help to improve quality, taste and freshness.
Driving efficiency to get more output, with less input, and lessened pressure on the land and environment, is a key element of many of the research projects that will progress in 2014, and this aspect is vital if we are to truly deliver “sustainable intensification”.
The values at the heart of the British food supply chain remain authentic and strong, despite the challenges posed in 2013. 83% of the farmers and growers said the quality of their produce is the aspect of the industry that they are most proud of.
In addition to the 100 British farmers and growers polled, a further 26 Sainsbury’s suppliers shared more detailed views on the main challenges and opportunities facing British farming in 2014. Helping drive consumer understanding, optimism and interest in the integrity of British farming and produce was seen as both one of the biggest challenges and opportunities for the year ahead.
Sainsbury’s customer insights showed that in 2013, 78% of shoppers buy British where available, an increase from 55% in 2007 and an upward trend that farmers and growers hope to see continue into 2014.
Sion Williams, a lamb farmer in Selkirk, commented: "Informing and educating the public on the quality of British produce available is something we are very passionate about. We produce lamb to the highest welfare standards from natural grazing on grass and forage kale, which we are rightly proud of. As farmers, we see 2014 as an opportunity to supply customers with consistent quality and value while supporting British agriculture."
Notes to editors