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Young people urged to consider food production as career

One of the biggest barriers to stepping up food production to meet soaring demand is persuading more young people to work in the sector, according to Farming minister David Heath.

During a visit to Kent, where he saw Weald Granary, Mereworth, and Winterdale Cheesemakers, Wrotham, he said the sector offered challenges and opportunities.

Rising world population was increasing demand, and the future for primary production and processing in the UK was good. However, there were potential barriers. “One is getting the brightest and best people interested in working in the food industry,” he said. “We have got to address this as a matter of urgency.”

The minister’s Future of Farming Review had identified the need to get young people interested in the industry and attracting new entrants. “One of the sadnesses is that in a lot of areas of the country, people don’t understand the opportunities there are.”

He claimed that school careers advisers had an “outdated view” of the industry. “It’s highly technological and sophisticated, has a good potential career structure and we need to get people involved.” It was also the biggest manufacturing industry in the country.

Mr Heath was taken on a tour of Winterdale’s dairy and caves where the cheese - made from warm morning milk from local cattle - matures for 10 months. He praised the businesses he had seen during his visit. Weald Granary and Winterdale had both been helped by Rural Development Programme grants from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. “I’m hugely impressed,” he said.

Robin Betts, who runs Winterdale with wife Carla, has won numerous awards for his Winterdale Shaw cheddar cheese, the first cheddar to be produced completely carbon-free. Their use of naturally cool caves where the cheese matures for 10 months, and electric vehicles, has enhanced their green credentials. The headquarters is an oak-framed barn fully insulated to cut energy costs.

Mr Betts paid tribute to the Defra grants worth around £55,000. “The problem with cheddar-making is the high capital cost of all the capital equipment required. Without that grant, we could never have achieved what we have.”

Winterdale’s big-name customers include Fortnum & Mason, Waitrose, Selfridge’s and The Goring Hotel.

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