Supermarket chain Morrisons is launching a £2 million apprenticeship fund to train the “farmers of the future”, as the sector faces a recruitment shortage.
The retailer – which says it is British farming’s single largest customer – said the funding will be used to ensure that the sector has enough people being trained to meet the UK’s food needs.
It is also seeking people from all backgrounds. Morrisons said its programme and apprenticeship funding will equip would-be farmers with the broad skills needed. Additionally, it will teach apprentices how to provide for food manufacturers and retailers like Morrisons.
The scheme will include broad-based agricultural skills training from a recognised training provider; and mentoring and support from fellow apprentices and key members of the Morrisons team to understand the retail sector.
Also on the agenda is matching apprentices with local stores so budding farmers can learn what customers want and how stores work; and studying to develop their understanding of customer attitudes to British sourcing, farming and animal welfare.
Morrisons said the average age of UK farmers is 59 and only 3 per cent are under 35 – and some 70 per cent believe not enough young people are coming into farming.
“Farming is facing a recruitment challenge, with fewer farmers’ children wanting to run the family business. Some 15 per cent of farmers named succession and inheritance as the largest issues threatening family-run farms today,” Morrisons said.
The retailer also said that in towns and cities there may not be enough knowledge of the countryside to generate an interest in farming, with a target of attracting more people from urban areas into the field. Amongst 18- to 24-year-olds, 16 per cent say they have never visited a farm.
Morrisons chief executive David Potts said: “We are British farming’s single largest customer and so it makes sense to invest our apprenticeship fund so that more new farmers can be trained to provide food for the nation.
“We hope that people from all backgrounds will be attracted to these important jobs.”
Minette Batters, president of the National Farmers Union (NFU), said: “The NFU welcomes this announcement by Morrisons to provide additional funding for the training of farmers and growers. Improving skills is a key part to unlocking productivity gains on farm and vital in addressing the future challenges and pressures that farming faces.
“Training and skills development also ensures there is a professional, flexible and reliable workforce as well as helping to attract new entrants to the industry.”
Morrisons said in June that it was bringing its same-day home delivery tie-up with Amazon to Scotland, rolling the service out to a host of cities including Glasgow before the end of the year.
In March, the grocery giant reported an 8.6 per cent rise in underlying pre-tax profits to £406 million for the year to 3 February.
The chain saw like-for-like retail sales growth slow to 0.6 per cent in the final three months, down from 1.3 per cent in the third quarter.