A “statistic” trotted out for at least the past decade is that the average age of a British farmer is 58.
My attempts to argue that this figure is misleading have had no success. It’s still produced every time there is a discussion on how new, young, entrants can get a start in farming with these old codgers clogging the industry’s arteries.
I claim the statistic is misleading because in many farming businesses the nominal farmer might well be in his 60s, 70s 0r 80s, but those effectively in charge are the next generation.
That’s because farmers more than most are reluctant to admit that they have outlived their usefulness and insist on being involved. They might not be first team regulars in a physical sense, but are ready to come off the subs’ bench at short notice and still have a big say in how the club is run.
And why not? For those of us of a certain age there are few things more irritating than a newspaper story that begins “An elderly man, 63, …” or similar. For those of us who believe that old age is always ten years older than we are, the feeling of being useful and necessary to a business is one of the things that keeps us going. For many people keeping fit, mentally alert, taking action holidays, running half marathons and volunteering is one way of dealing with getting older; farmers, more than most, see job and identity as one and the same and their way of dealing with getting older is to keep doing what they have always done for as long as they can.
There is a place for experience and sound advice to the next generation in a business and the one beyond that. The skill is knowing when to shut up and when to stay out of the way. To recognise that, physically, those in their 60s, 70s and 80s slow down and are more prone to accidents. Otherwise, being 58 or above is not a crime or a sign of a moribund industry even if the figure was correct.
A year or so ago NFU Scotland had no woman in its top 20 jobs. As far as I can see that hasn’t changed since its 2014 annual meeting. But there has been movement in the NFU of England and Wales with the election of Minette Batters as deputy president. Not before time we could say as she’s the first female member of the English NFU top team in the union’s 106 year history.
It’s also good news for the English NFU that it elected Guy Smith vice-president, a man with “a passion for explaining farming to non-farming audiences.” Counter-balancing the new look was the election of Meurig Raymond, deputy to outgoing president Peter Kendall for the past eight years, as the new president – new blood, experience and steady as she goes. Rather like most farming businesses?
It’s spring, the sun has shone now and again and the urge to get on with fieldwork is making farmers twitchy – except those too busy with lambing to think of anything else.