The National Farm Service | Jake Scott
Perhaps it is a little bit of a meme, but I care quite a bit about Britain’s farming capacities. My father is a farmer, and so was his father; I grew up on a fairly rural farm, affectionately nicknamed ‘Windy Hill’ (though the actual farm name was Ashtree Farm); and last year at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, I made it clear that the government should be investing in British farming, and could do at a very minimal cost.
Now, the Editor in Chief of the Mallard, Mr. Samuel Martin, exhorted us to ‘dream big’ when it comes to Project 22, and I don’t disagree. Indeed, as my dad likes to say, farming is the biggest job on earth; and I think he’s right. So what more of a grandiose project could I propose than a radical overhaul of Britain’s farming labour market, than to propose the National Farm Service.
At the age of sixteen, upon finishing GCSEs, and being of working age, all children should spend their summer holidays on a farm. When I was only ten, my parents ran a farm school that invited urban school children to visit and find out where their food came from: almost none of them could identify the animal that produced beef. Very few knew what pork was. Some even failed to connect the meat ‘chicken’ with the animal ‘chicken’. But, just as our ancestors broke school over summer to allow farmers’ children to assist in the work, so too should young adults see the summer at the end of their school year, which is incredibly long anyway, as a chance to reconnect with the land that sustains them.
It would be wrong, however, to say the rewards of this should be cultural only. Some people will hate physical labour, even if it is for their own good; I would recommend rewarding young adults who work on a farm with credits they can use to offset any university fees they might take on. And if they don’t want to go to university? Perhaps a government-secured mortgage, that would substitute for a deposit.
Two years ago, facing the dual crises of Brexit and Covid, a labour shortage in the farming industry meant that some of our neighbouring farms hired native workers to pick fruit. Within weeks, most had quit; and not necessarily because they didn’t want to do it, but because they just couldn’t. The sheer lack of skills in our labour market – and fruit-picking is hard, and it’s very easy to get it wrong – means our work staff tend to be recurring casual workers taken from abroad. This is a food security issue – not in the typical sense of ‘security’ against ‘danger’, but from the fragile supply lines that our food is reliant on. At the moment, wheat futures are soaring in price – you might know that oil prices are rising, but it’s food prices you need to watch out for.
I dream of a society in which everyone knows where their food comes from, why, and feels a strong connection to it as a result; and of parents reflecting nostalgically on their time in the fields as they prepare their children for their turn. Perhaps I just want to turn the clock back – but I am still unconvinced that we cannot do this. I am even less convinced that we should not.