A SHORTAGE of affordable housing in rural areas was among the topics discussed at the Yorkshire Federation of Young Farmers’ Clubs (YFYFC) annual forum.
Panellists at Friday’s event, which was held at Thirsk Auction Mart, were given the general heading of ‘Rural opportunities for our future generation’.
The panel was made up of Richmond MP Rishi Sunak, North East Regional Director of the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) Adam Bedford, vice chairman of YFYFC and current holder of the Yorkshire Post Young Farmer of the Year title Georgina Fort, CEO of rural focussed charity Community First Yorkshire Leah Swain and chair of the National Federation of Young Farmers’ Clubs Lynsey Martin. The evening was chaired by former Yorkshire YFC chairman of YFYFC Ian Close.
Rishi Sunak said there was “no silver bullet” to fix the problem of accommodation for young people wanting to stay within the rural communities they grew up in.
“When there is a proposal for a housing development I only ever hear from people who want to stop new homes from being built,” said Mr Sunak, who is a Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.
“So my advice to you young farmers is to make sure your voices are heard. When you hear of plans for a new development you need to be campaigning to make sure there is a covenant for affordable housing for locals to be included. You need to be reminding those voicing their concerns against new builds that you are the lifeblood of rural areas and that communities ignore you at their peril.”
YFC national chair Lynsey Martin reported that the rural youth organisation had been busy lobbying Environment Secretary Michael Gove to make sure he’s thinking long-term when it comes to post-Brexit agriculture policies.
“It’s vital the Government thinks further ahead than the next five years,” she said. “They need to be coming up with policies for not only the next farming generation but the generation coming up after them.”
Ms Martin added that while farmers are traditionally good at promoting agriculture to each other, they have not been the best at getting their message across to the general public.
“It’s alright telling each other at our local young farmers’ club meetings what we are up to, but the reality is we need to be using social media to tell the wider public how great British farming is,” said Ms Martin.
Leah Swain also touched on this, flagging up the success of the vegan movement’s New Year campaign Veganuary.
“As the younger generation coming through there are a lot of opportunities open to you with social media,” she said. “You need to be thinking a bit different about how you promote agricultural and rural businesses.”
YFYFC vice chairman Georgina Fort, who works on the family dairy farm at Silsden, said as someone working in agriculture it can often feel “there is a lot of talking going on but not a lot of doing” to ease rural issues.
“All the various agencies can be full of positive messages but agriculture can sometimes look a bit grim when you’re on the inside looking out,” said Georgina, who highlighted the subject of succession – the younger generation taking over the reins from the older – as a hot potato.
“This is a difficult subject for many young farmers to broach, but the younger generation can’t build for the future unless succession of farms is openly discussed.”
The NFU’s regional director Adam Bedford said the experience of the older generation mustn’t be overlooked and that he’d witnessed first-hand how useful it can be for young farmers to be mentored by somebody from within the industry.
“There are key issues like access to land and access to finance that need addressing to keep rural opportunities open,” he said. “There is no doubting that Brexit has put our industry into a period of change, but the fact there will be a new agriculture bill – with policy dictated from Westminster rather than Brussels – means opportunities will arise. They are changing times but there is no reason why they can’t be exciting times, full of opportunity for the future generation.”