Farm life isn’t all dark and dark – Brian Henderson

A moody moment from a Scottish Craft Butchers video (Picture: Scottish Craft Butchers)

The consequences – including crops left to rot in the fields and companies forced to cut planned production and cut investment – were also well reported at last week’s NFU Scotland conference.

Recently, a major survey showed that less than a quarter of the general population would even consider working on a farm – and the widely reported experiences of those trying to find local additions to their workforce from the pool shrinking of the UK’s unemployed would indicate that even fewer were willing to stick with it even if they tried.

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But while the UK government’s attitude of “paying them more” has been almost too flippant to merit comment, it must be admitted that as a sector, while pay rates are generally well above stipulated minimum levels, we probably haven’t been doing a great job of selling the industry as the one with the most attractive hours of employment or prospects for advancement.

There has always been a tendency among farmers to focus on the long hours and drudgery of training in all weathers – it seems to be in our psyches to revel in misery.

But it’s not always cold and dreich, and we’re not bound by five days, from nine to five. But in the constant rush to get jobs done during sunny spells, we tend to forget that when we’re out in the morning sun and breeze, most people are stuck in traffic or hunched over a desk.

But while we shouldn’t paint the picture of a rural idyll that’s really only found on Constable’s canvases or the weekly episode of Countryfile, coloring the recruiting poster with some of the excitement, of the very real satisfaction and gratification that can come from work is important.

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Looking back in history, farming wasn’t the only job that proved quite unpopular with the general populace – it was only a few centuries ago that the Royal Navy had to pressure people to man the country’s warships. Similarly, the old coin at the bottom of the beer glass was used to forcibly recruit recruits for the army by tricking the unwary into taking the Queen’s shilling.

No one would seriously suggest press gang tactics these days, but it might pay to see how the armed forces reverse their unpopularity. Rather than the stern face of Lord Kitchener ostensibly declaring that “Your country needs you”, recruitment campaigns now focus on camaraderie, opportunities and prospects for advancement, as well as the opportunity to familiarize themselves with certain equipment high tech – basically a bit of a PR makeover.

It would certainly do us no harm to move away from the austere and brooding image of the farmer that is imprinted in the minds of many young people.

On this front, the union conference raised some interesting possibilities. The first was unfortunately hampered by a technical problem. Presentation by the Craft Butchers on one of their recruiting events only resulted in the heavy metal soundtrack playing during the conference – but it was intriguing enough that I clicked on the link provided more later to the “Butcher Wars” video on YouTube.

The event happened as WWE wrestling meets MasterChef, with contestants walking under the spotlight through dry ice, carrying a side of lamb over their shoulder to the beat of the aforementioned music. The ensuing competition between young butchers to turn the carcass into a showcase for charcuterie and ready-made meals caused a real buzz in the crowd – and I’m sure I saw a few sign up for the training.

We should harness the talents of the younger generation of farmers also on display at the conference, showing how social media, podcasting and vlogging are helping to tell the real story of farming – and use them to beat the drum of the recruitment.

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