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'Farming should be put on the school curriculum' says award-winning Suffolk farm apprentice

PUBLISHED: 11:03 24 November 2019

George Leonard of Home Farm Nacton, near Ipswich  Picture: JOHN NICE

George Leonard of Home Farm Nacton, near Ipswich Picture: JOHN NICE

John Nice

Farming should be put on the school curriculum, award-winning Suffolk apprentice farmer George Leonard believes.

George Leonard, fourth from left, receiving his apprenticeship award with, from left, Stephen Miles, Mark Pendlington, Liam Robinson,  and Richard Anscombe  Picture: JOHN NICEGeorge Leonard, fourth from left, receiving his apprenticeship award with, from left, Stephen Miles, Mark Pendlington, Liam Robinson, and Richard Anscombe Picture: JOHN NICE

George, now aged 21, works for Home Farm Nacton, near Ipswich, as a general farm worker and is nearing completion of his apprenticeship qualification.

"I think we need to get better careers advice and farming should be put on the school curriculum," he says.

"If you don't grow up on a farm, farming is hardly ever on the radar. I think it came up once (careers advice) when I was at school. It was during a focus on science, technology and maths (STEM) session. A local farm came in to talk about the new technology that is happening in farming. As it happened, the farm that came in (Home Farm Nacton) is the place where I now work."

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Earlier this year, George - who is not from a farming background - was crowned joint winner of the Suffolk Agricultural Apprentice of the Year contest, and was presented with his award at the Suffolk Show alongside Liam Robinson, of Rattlerow Farms, near Eye.

George wants farming to be put on the school curriculum  Picture: IAN BURTGeorge wants farming to be put on the school curriculum Picture: IAN BURT

George has been in post for two years while working on the farm. He chose farming as a career because he liked the idea of it and found it rewarding.

"Seeing the landscapes change through the year is fulfilling," he says.

"I did well in my A-levels but wasn't sure about university. So my school and Easton and Otley College helped me get on an apprenticeship qualification. I guess I kind of fell into farming. It was always at the back of my mind as a potential career. I decided not to go to university as I didn't like the idea of the student debt. It was also four more years of education with no income.

"Getting paid is always nice and I really like the lifestyle of farming."

It's not all rosy, though: while none of his farming tasks are too bad, some, such as grading potatoes, can grate, he admits.

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"You are doing the same thing for hours on end and that can be tiresome after a few days," he says.

He thinks the younger generation can have a major impact on the industry at what is a time of great change.

"I think that some farmers are known for doing things the way they have been taught - so new up and coming minds coming into the industry can help look at the same issues with a fresh perspective," he says.

"I think that the machinery is getting more complex and younger minds are generally all over new technology. So hopefully we can work together with the established generations."

He's optimistic about the future of farming and hopes to encourage more youngsters to follow in his footsteps.

"I always push the good aspects of it to others. People still have the misconception that it's hard work, long hours and low pay - and it's difficult to change that mindset. Don't get me wrong, the hours can be long but they aren't long all the time. And I'm doing OK pay wise and I get loads of job satisfaction," he says.

"As long as you are prepared to work hard when needed - there are definitely lots of rewards to be had both financially and in terms of job satisfaction.

The one cloud on the horizon is Brexit, which he thinks may result in a downturn in casual labour from other European Union (EU) countries.

"Arguably that could open up opportunities for young British people to come through and earn some money. I think there will be challenges, but I think there are solutions to the problems. It won't end the industry or anything drastic like that. We are going to work around whatever comes our way," he says.

He sees a hopeful future for himself in the industry, and is looking forward to a long and varied career.

"I hope to manage a farm myself one day - that is the overall aim," he says. "I hope to have a long career. People are always going to want food."

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