The West Midlands farming industry could disappear within 30 years unless it can persuade people to work in the rural sector, a professional skills body has warned.
The region’s migrant workers is starting to disappear and the increasing strength of the euro and improvement in the Eastern European economy threatens to plunge the rural economy into a crisis that could see it wiped out by 2035, according to Lantra.
It has been working to encourage young people into unfashionable rural businesses, which lose 3,000 workers every year in the West Midlands.
On Friday, as part of its mission, it brought the country to the city with an event in Birmingham’s Victoria Square showing off the work of a farrier, a dry-stone waller and a falconer.
Madge Moore, national director of Lantra in England, said there was a crisis in rural recruitment, adding: “It’s not that nobody wants to work there, it’s that the people who work there are coming up to retirement. The average age is well over 45.
“The agriculture industry has not had the best press with bluetongue and foot-and-mouth, and it’s not been seen as a very sexy industry to get into. People see it as dirty and cold.”
She said changing conditions in the European market meant the West Midlands could no longer rely on the tens of thousands of migrant workers that provide a large proportion of the rural workforce.
Part-time workers from Eastern Europe prop up the rural economy, particularly in fruit-picking counties like Herefordshire and Worcestershire.
“I think with some parts of the land based industries where we have relied on migrant workers, we are beginning to see there are fewer migrants coming into the labour force – especially given the recent strength of the euro,” said Ms Moore. “And its something that’s going to happen more in the future.”
She said Lantra would be working with schools and careers advisers to encourage more young people to get into land-based industries.
There are more than 70,000 people working in the environmental and land-based sector in the West Midlands – three per cent of all employment.
But Lantra said there would be thousands of opportunities for skilled, well-paid jobs in rural areas.
“What we have to do is inform careers advisers and parents there are a lot of highly skilled jobs in the industry,” said Ms Moore.
“From September 2009 there will be the option for students of doing a new diploma in land-based industries. We hope that will build in a culture change and young people will be given an opportunity to see what’s on offer in the countryside.
“I think there are some misconceptions about the low wage, though there is no mistaking that it’s hard work.”
On average, land-based industries, even though they are losing workers, pay £100 more a week than the average earned in retail, hotels or restaurants.
But young people are failing to see the potential of the industry.
Dr Gordon McGlone, the chairman of Lantra, said: “With over 14,800 businesses from across the West Midlands already active in the land-based industry we know that there is the appetite, interest and skill base within the region – we hope this event in Victoria Square will inspire many more.”