Opportunities for young people are everything.
They open doors that can change their whole life course, they bring hope, aspiration and a chance to develop and improve.
I wouldn’t be in farming today if someone hadn’t given me an opportunity.
But let’s be honest, offering opportunity comes at a cost.
I had been though university when I decided that I wanted to move into farming and so my opportunity came via Derek Scrimgeour, who agreed to take a ‘Red Haired Townie’ and give her a chance to experience a new world.
I know the cost to him was his time, his commitment and to a large extent a hell of a lot of patience!
However, the opportunity that the Scrimgeour family gave me transformed my life and a direct result is where I am today.
Opportunities in agriculture are hard come by but are so very important and I am a massive advocate for both hands-on experience and formal education for young people who want to move into an agricultural career.
I am the first to admit that I have holes in my farming knowledge, that I am still plugging to this day, that probably wouldn’t be there if I had gone to an agricultural college.
Newton Rigg College is the heart of agricultural education in Cumbria. It has seen generation after generation walk through their doors and leave with not just a formal education but with vast amount of useable knowledge and new skills.
It is just as relevant and beneficial to young people who have grown up on a farm as it is to ‘new entrants’.
Colleges like Newton Rigg don’t just provide opportunities to learn but to gain experience, to socialise, to try all aspects of farming and to make connections, which are crucial in farming as we share and make use of other skills and specialisms.
Importantly they increase young peoples’ confidence, their aspiration for their future career, their ability to challenge the norm and to innovate.
These are all the things that our industry needs now, and in the future if it is to survive and flourish in what are very challenging times.
I am really angry that we are now having to fight to keep Newton Rigg college open.
Why as a country are we not prioritising our young people and ensuring that they can have the opportunity to learn and develop not just in traditional academic areas but also in areas such as agriculture?
Does it make individuals like me less worthy of a formal education if I want to study agriculture as opposed to medicine or law?
Why are we not prioritising an industry that is the backbone of our existence, that provides our food, that cares for our environment and that looks after our land?
Why are we taking such crucial investment out of a county for which farming is such a vital part of our economy, our infrastructure and indeed our society?
Newton Rigg is so important for our young people but let’s be honest it is equally as important to us as an industry and to Cumbria as a county.
Farming activities in Cumbria employ over 12,000 people on either a full-time (52 per cent) or part-time basis.
Defra reports that there were 5,135 farm holdings in the county (4.8 per cent of the total for England).
The farmed environment underpins much of our tourism and our landscape attracts up to 45 million visitors each year.
We can’t be complacent and think that this lack of investment only impacts young people.
The loss of Newton Rigg is another example of how the agricultural industry is struggling from a lack of investment and Government support.
If this lack of investment and support carries on, if we lose Newton Rigg then we are losing a long term investment in our county, which will not just impact the agricultural industry but given its link to tourism it will impact our county as a whole.
So, whether you are concerned about young people, the agricultural industry in Cumbria or the wider Cumbrian economy, Newton Rigg needs your help.
Dr Neil Hudson MP is leading the fight to save Newton Rigg. It is really easy to add your voice just by signing the petition which is available online here.
Our young people need us to stand up for them like never before.
Let us show them we care about them and their future, because at the end of the day they are the future of farming!