With the number of people leaving or retiring exceeding those coming into land-based industries, there is a mountain to climb in attracting new entrants into farming, forestry and the ancillary trades.
That is not a new sentiment but this week it came with added weight from the managing director of the country’s largest machinery and labour sharing co-operative, which last year supplied almost £7 million of labour into the rural sector.
Graham Bruce of Ringlink (Scotland) was speaking at the co-op’s annual meeting in Edzell, when he said he believed the shortage of labour was a huge future problem for the industry.
He revealed Ringlink were discussing with Aberdeenshire Council setting up of an apprenticeship scheme where new entrants would get a grounding in a wide range of basic rural skills before going on to more specific trades.
“We have got to persuade youngsters that we can provide a worthwhile career,” he said. “It may not be for everyone but we need to do something to fill the employment gap that is facing the industry.”
Although the scheme is still on the drawing board, he visualised those coming on a year-long course working – and he emphasised physical working – on a number of sites where they could learn a wide range of skills before specialising.
Ringlink would be looking for farms and businesses willing to take those youngsters on, with Bruce saying that these would play an essential role in training the next generation. He compared this part of the learning to that of the former farm grieve who passed skills down to the next generation.
Part of the new scheme he envisaged is to provide employment all year round for workers. The past two decades have seen more and more work concentrated on the three-month harvest period but Ringlink has been promoting initiatives in the forestry sector and the renewable industry which provide employment in other times of the year.
The co-operative, which now has 2,665 members stretching from the Moray coast to the Tay, is about to start felling trees on a number of members’ farms following a survey which revealed 265 plots of woodland covering to 1,600 hectares which were categorised as neglected.
The additional income from forestry for these members was given by Bruce as another benefit of co-operation. He also revealed that Ringlink, with the support of the Forestry Commission, was about to carry out a second survey as it believed there was more neglected woodland out there.
Chairman of Ringlink Andrew Moir highlighted another service for members which has taken off this past year, with more than two-thirds of those interested in sourcing their electricity moving to a new supplier through Ringlink, making what he described as substantial savings.
The turnover of Ringlink and its wholly owned subsidiary, Ringlink Services, rose to just over £37 million last year.