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Horticulture expert at Hadlow College Alan Harvey looks at the changing face of the farming industry

By Chris Britcher

In an ever evolving world, the need for a new generation to embrace new growing methods to ensure we reap future harvests is never more important.

In a special article, Alan Harvey, head of faculty for horticulture at Hadlow College, looks at the changing face of the industry.

Using new technology such as drones is part of a modern horticulturalists' arsenal
Using new technology such as drones is part of a modern horticulturalists' arsenal

It’s a sign of the times; we are a nation that is achingly hyper-aware of its future.

We live in a world where Brexit and climate change dominates our phone-screens, tabloids and television.

With Brexit potentially affecting food import costs and climate change threatening biodiversity, the future seems so overwhelmingly uncertain that often it seems impossible to find a rational solution.

Watch a video on farming technology from last summer

Due to these circumstances, there is a natural concern for the state of our ecosystem and what we can do collectively to improve it.

For this reason, current generations are now thinking proactively in terms of how to be more sustainable and environmentally-friendly; to ensure the health and survival of the globe’s future inhabitants.

In order to resolve these hefty concerns, everyone from different walks of life must come together to build a brighter future.

However, in fear of being too overwhelmed by the sheer enormity of our collective responsibility, it is crucial to break down potential solutions which can be put into practice.

In recent times, the UK has begun to think and behave more sustainably: we recycle, we are more health-conscious and we are more interested in the provenance of our food.

Younger generations are being brought up on these very philosophies and lifestyles.

Robots are deployed to assist in production
Robots are deployed to assist in production

They are also the social media generation, accessing information on how to eat and lead a more sustainable way of life at their very fingertips.

With these considerations in mind, there is an entire pool of young people growing up with a greater awareness about fresh food, how it is produced and its effects on human health.

To reflect this change in our time, young adults are becoming more interested in pursuing futures which are based on these very principles.

Not only do younger people want a healthier lifestyle and a better standard of living, they ultimately desire a well-paid career that is original, engaging and applicable to the world we live in.

So what kinds of careers are essential to a more sustainable way of living? What careers have relevance in today’s society? Could it be horticulture and other disciplines within the agribusiness sector?

Modern-day horticulture is pushing the boundaries of how we produce food on both a domestic and a commercial scale.

Youngsters are being urged to consider careers in horticulture - one of the county's traditional industries
Youngsters are being urged to consider careers in horticulture - one of the county's traditional industries

But although it is using innovative, alternative technologies on a day-to-day basis, this contemporary image isn’t necessarily correlating with the rest of the population’s view.

The general idea that horticulture is an industry with low productivity, low wages and little glamour, is a skewed perception that really requires changing.

Unfortunately, this perception of horticulture is still blurring young people’s idea of what it entails.

For this reason, horticulture is not seen as relevant or technically-advanced to warrant a young person’s interest.

Most of the population still picture these industries as they were 30 years ago, even though the reality of present-day food production is radically different.

Now, contemporary horticulture is enterprising and imaginative.

Modern technology is creating a modern era for farmers (8034520)
Modern technology is creating a modern era for farmers (8034520)

Energy-efficient robots whirl around glasshouses and other production sites, harvesting and checking the standard of crops sustainably and efficiently.

These nimble systems reduce carbon footprint and enable a mirror image of large-scale production on smaller urban sites without compromise to yield and quality.

But in order for younger people to recognise this value, these realities need to be better articulated, understood and then realised.

It should be known that horticulture is a dynamic and thriving industry which is pressingly appropriate in today’s society and indeed the future.

Ultimately, a day in the life of a horticulturalist is never mundane.

This is primarily because horticulture is interdisciplinary by nature - there are so many elements which come into play.

The need for more to enter the growing industries is essential to future of agricultural industries in Kent
The need for more to enter the growing industries is essential to future of agricultural industries in Kent

One day you might have to draw on your science expertise, whereas the other you might have to employ your maths skills.

For instance, if you were a grower working in a glasshouse, you would have to complete multiple calculations, such as estimating and calculating crop growth, taking into account any variables which might emerge.

These equations require excellent maths abilities which have real implications and effects in the world.

A grower has to calculate the percentage in which vents need to open to allow correct cold air to prevent crops from chilling.

There are calculations to prevent crop disease and pests, and different controls to create the optimum growing environment. The list is endless.

And the sense of responsibility is just as significant as the calculations.

Harnessing robotic technology for modern day growers
Harnessing robotic technology for modern day growers

Growers have to ensure they deliver the contracted amount of produce to the paying supermarkets.

If a grower has promised to provide a certain amount of produce, then they need to maintain a consistent yield to deliver harvest to supermarket. Could you name another career which has this level of real-life responsibility, plus skill and ingenuity?

Without question, a career in food production has huge relevance today.

Not only is it fundamental to the survival of current and indeed future generations, sustainable food production systems are completely essential to preserving the health of our planet.

Rows of strawberries - a key Kent harvest
Rows of strawberries - a key Kent harvest

And with the industry heading in a more modern direction, it is crucial that the perception of horticulture keeps pace with this emerging identity.

Back in 2012, a survey published by the Office for National Statistics highlighted that people working in the rural industries were among some of the happiest workers in the UK.

Seven years later, it is safe to say that this statistic still rings true.

For a well-paid, diverse and innovative career that will value your quality of life, look no further than a future in horticulture. It definitely warrants some food-for-thought.

Horticulture has been steadily reintroduced into the curriculum at various academic stages.

Former JLS singer JB Gill runs a farm in Kent and told kmfm at the end of last year that more young people should consider it as a profession.

Hadlow College offers multiple initiatives, including its Pip to Plate event, designed for school children up to the age of 16.

This is a school careers event which promotes the wide range of career opportunities within the horticulture industry.

It takes place in the British Independent Fruit Growers Association (BIFGA)/Huxley Orchards at the Court Lane site of Hadlow College.

Students at Hadlow College learn about modern growing methods
Students at Hadlow College learn about modern growing methods

Students from local schools attend the event to experience horticulture by following the journey of an apple from ‘Pip to Plate’ with input from major fruit businesses and supported by Hadlow’s undergraduate degree horticulture students.

They hear about the history, science and business of fruit-growing, whilst seeing the actual practice of propagation, storage and harvesting of the fruit, with interactive tasks along the tour.

In the final stage of the journey, the school students join in the picking of the apples from which the college produces its own apple juice and cider.

The students then assist in processing their harvested fruit.

To find out more about initiatives at Hadlow College click here.

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