Suffolk Agricultural Association Rising Star award winner Tom Rouse is an agronomist with Farmacy, who says older generation farmers have a lot of knowledge to share.
Tom Rouse always had a keen interest in biology and chemistry and wanted to work in agriculture, so agronomy was a perfect fit.
Now, aged 29, Harper Adams graduate Tom is an agronomist with Farmacy, an independent agronomy adviser based in Lincoln.
He provides advice to farmers in Suffolk and south Norfolk, specifically around crop production.
“Agronomy covers a wide range of topics including soil health, plant health, nutrition, crop protection, rotational planning and budgeting," he explains.
Older generation farmers are more risk averse, and this can sometimes hinder the advances that the younger generation want to make, he admits, but he thinks this can bring stability and resilience and it's a case of two generations meeting in the middle.
“With an ageing workforce there is a lot of experience out there that needs to be passed on to the new generation coming through. A lot of farm and soil knowledge is locked up with older members of the industry and it is vital to use technology to document and capture the knowledge and experience for the incoming generation to be able to utilise.”
Tom has been a partner in his family farm for nine years growing assured combinable and root crops, but really enjoys the diversity of his current day job, he says.
“No two days are ever the same and I get to work with a wide range of farmers and help influence productivity in a number of very different farming systems," he says.
“I was attracted to farming because of the outside lifestyle and the sense of community you get from being a part of agriculture in the rural counties. I also really like the seasonality of the job, the workload peaks and troughs with the seasons.”
He dislikes some of the economics underpinning farming, including that the farmer has to buy at retail price only to sell at wholesale price.
“This needs to change, particularly if policy is going to squeeze the agricultural support mechanisms," he says.
"I dislike that farmers are price takers. I feel that food is the most vital thing we produce and it has been devalued to the point where the farmer is at the bottom of the supply chain and therefore takes the lowest price. Everybody in the supply chain above the farmer then makes all the margins – yet they are all so reliant on the farmer producing the starting product."
He wants farmers to maintain a fair price for their product and would like to see some of the price volatility taken out of the market.
“No other industry has to produce a product without knowing how much they will be able to sell it for. I would like policy and governance to be guided more from the bottom up and the politicians to listen more to those on the ground who have a real understanding of our industry.
“I want the dictation from the top to be reduced. However, that involves the next generation of agricultural industry representatives like myself to step up to the mark.”
Younger farmers need to promote the industry social media, particularly to their non-farming peers, he says, and believes the industry offers a job for every personality and mindset from engineering, to accounting, to research, haulage, machinery operations and technology developers.
In addition, the livestock sector requires nutritionists, vets, breeders, building and infrastructure and welfare management. It offers "fantastic job satisfaction” and a very fulfilled lifestyle.
“Agriculture really does have a job to suit anybody,” he says.
"I hope the research and development companies continue to invest in new biology and chemistry for farmers' practices to evolve even further than they already have in my short time in the industry so far.”
He believes the industry can and will evolve because of the tolerant and resourceful nature of the people who work in it, and wants opportunities to remain open for everyone who wanted to be involved, irrespective of the size of their business, or their background.
“There will be big environmental changes as the pressure to reduce our environmental impact continues. 'Big farming' I do not necessarily see as the full answer as I would suggest there are a number of social and environmental benefits that the small farmer brings to the rural community that big business agriculture doesn't,” he says.