The future of the food and farming industries post Brexit, whether a degree or a job leads to better career prospects and the growth of veganism and its impact on agriculture were just three topics covered in an insightful Farm Forum held at Reaseheath College in Cheshire.

Level 3 Diploma in Agriculture students and undergraduates from University Centre Reaseheath were actively involved in informative and varied discussions with a panel of experienced advisors from across the supply chain.

The annual event, sponsored by the Food, Drink & Agricultural Group of the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) and the Cheshire branch of the Institute of Agricultural Management (IAgrM), delivered valuable advice on the opportunities available in the fast changing industries and how to build a successful career.

Speakers John Giles (Chair of CIM’s Food, Drink and Agricultural Group and Divisional Director Promar International); Emma Main (Consultant, Promar International Sustainability Team); James Yeomans (Farm Manager, Grasslands UK); Jonny Hewitt (Managing Director, Frozen Mountain Ltd); David Hall (Regional Director NFU North West) and Mark Beavon (Dairy Industry Operations Ltd) all agreed that both the UK and international market continued to offer many opportunities and agri-technology was very much the key to success.

A question on whether it was more beneficial to gain a degree or go straight into work after studying to Level 3 provoked an in depth discussion, with the panel united in the attraction of a degree to employers. However, all speakers agreed that, to be truly employable, graduates needed a balance of technical skills and practical experience alongside academic knowledge and that some jobs such as those in finance and marketing would always require specific qualifications.

Mark Beavon emphasised that there was high demand for managerial, operational and technical roles within the food industry and that the key was to identify a career which matched personal strengths and weaknesses.

James Yeomans advised having a year out to gain industry experience before studying at university, as this would help with the right choice of degree.

John Giles suggested an apprenticeship was an attractive alternative which avoided student debt while offering the opportunity for valuable technical learning in the workplace. This route often led to degree level studies which were recognised and supported by employers.

While he didn’t want to discourage young people from going to university, he emphasised that technical and inter personal skills were equally important. He also reminded his audience of the range of jobs available in the food and farming industries. For instance, although Promar’s parent company, Genus ABS, was a world leading cattle breeding business with a need for animal scientists, it also required talented young people in roles such as management and logistics.

Where farm diversification was concerned Jonny Hewitt, a former NFU Cheshire County Chair, was keen to support new enterprises but reminded students that they would have to dedicate time, energy and passion to their idea. Emma Main said that innovation and concept backed up by research were key, along with social media and marketing skills.

Agreeing, David Hall quoted the case of former Reaseheath agriculture student Sam Moorhouse, who identified a gap in the market for an Icelandic style yoghurt which was high in protein and calcium but low in fat. His Skyr yoghurt was now a national brand, produced with British milk and sold in major supermarkets.

On the growing trend of veganism, all felt that the farming industry would benefit by further promoting high value meat which was produced locally to high welfare standards and by underlining the health benefits of dairy products, which had naturally occurring proteins, calcium and vitamins.

They also felt that the efforts the farming and food industries were making to become carbon neutral by 2040, led by the NFU, should be given a higher profile.

Rounding up, John Giles said: “The Chartered Institute of Marketing is extremely keen to enthuse talented young people who are about to enter the agricultural and food industries. The next generation will face a range of challenges and there will be a very high demand for their skills and passion.

“Reaseheath College and its University Centre is well known for the high standard of its teaching and I have been impressed by the enthusiasm of the students and the way they have engaged with the professional speakers. They have been a bright, engaged and well informed group who clearly care about the future of their industry.”