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Report Segment: The Suffolk Agricultural Association

The Suffolk Agricultural Association

The Suffolk Agricultural Association was formed in 1831, and exemplifies an organisation which puts the rural economy at the heart of its activities. Chris Bushby is the executive director of Suffolk Agricultural Association and in recent years has focused attention on making the Suffolk Show one of the best in the country. The show is a vital part of the annual farming calendar – producing a multiplier effect of some £20m - £30m each year. Chris Bushby is also at the centre of a new cross county initiative encapsulated in a Food & Farming Enterprise Board which has 14 farmers from Suffolk and Norfolk coming together with several rural economy stakeholders (e.g. the National Farmers Union) to discuss critical issues which will affect farming now and in the future.

Chris Bushby is adamant that industry must do more to engage with education. Too often the farming community is quick to run down what the education system does but less inclined to get involved and talk to colleges about what is needed for their workforce.

Diversification is a key theme for farming but some counties have been much more active than others in successfully diversifying into other sectors, Chris cites Cornwall and the southwest as obvious examples of diversification into retail, tourism and office accommodation. But he also points out that diversification is a by-product of shrinking markets and in East Anglia, the flat land and high prices commanded for cereals has meant that many farmers have not needed to look at diversification.

Chris Bushby is a big supporter of apprenticeships but surmises that many don’t stay the course. Equally he believes that many students coming out of college do not have the appropriate skills, aptitude or attitude for the farming sector, a theme taken up by several other interviewees.

However Chris does not see this as a simple one way equation. Farming businesses fail to sufficiently reward young people coming into the sector and the perception of farming continues to be poor – manual labour, long working hours, and few career prospects often cited by students as a reason for choosing other sectors. This in itself is interesting, since much farming work these days is mechanised, requires highly skilled labour and can command excellent salaries from day one. Tractor drivers, for example, may well start on a pro-rata of £30,000 per year.