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Mark Lumsdon-Taylor, director of finance and resources at Hadlow College  

The shortage of young people opting for a career in horticulture – most specifically in relation to food production – has been the subject of debates and seminars for a very long time.

The problem is global and yet no one – educators, the industry and other stakeholders and commentators – has the answer.

All sorts of theories for this shortage have been expounded. Blame has been attributed to the fact that the importance we attach to food has reduced in line with reduction of the average household spend.

Seasonality disappeared when we entered the global market. Spending on ready meals has increased and, despite the popularity of cookery-related programmes on TV, we are cooking less, thus further losing connection with fresh ingredients.

LEAF’s Open Farm Sunday, the many farms that offer ‘farm experiences’ as part of diversification schemes, the charities that provide ‘countryside experiences’ – the list is endless. Following Jamie Oliver’s campaign, focus on school meals has been virtually continuous. Young children are very impressionable and they are also surprisingly influential and I have no doubt the diet in some households has undergone improvement due to the intervention of the youngest family members.

All this is good – but despite the many initiatives and inspirational messages that link very young people with the sources of food and how it is grown and produced, by the time the same children enter secondary school their interest has either waned or disappeared completely.

When it is time for them to consider career options, production horticulture hardly ever features. In the very rare instances it is included in a careers list, teachers, careers advisers and parents generally lack the knowledge that would enable them to discuss the diversity of opportunities the industry offers young people of all abilities – including the very, very brightest. How can young people be ‘advised’ when their ‘advisers’ are abysmally ignorant?

This, or very similar, has been said many, many times over – with virtually no results. I don’t believe this negative state of affairs will change unless the entire industry – by that I mean every sector and facet – unites to reverse the current ignorance.

Too much money and resources are exhausted seeking the elusive new entrant when, in unity, we should be tackling the much bigger issue. We need united campaigns focused on informing and educating the people who should be – but very rarely are – offering comprehensive career advice. Until we tackle the fundamental deficiency, the problems associated with attracting young entrants will continue.

We should cease playing and agree a unified approach that will provide viable solutions.