New research reveals pandemic and Brexit implications weigh heavy on rural youth

Rural young people are pessimistic about future opportunities to live and work in rural areas and believe the pandemic will continue to affect their prospects in the long-term, a new study by The National Federation of Young Farmers’ Clubs (NFYFC) has found.

The research, a Defra-supported NFYFC project in collaboration with researchers Rose Regeneration, has been released ahead of National Young Farmers’ Week 2020 (26-30 October 2020), to reveal how rural young people feel about their future post-Brexit amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Affordable housing, connectivity and available youth services were amongst the challenges faced by today’s rural young people who take an active part in their local communities. They want information and advice on topics ranging from mental health and wellbeing to housing, farming, training and skills.

Key highlights

  • 97% want to live in a rural area over the next five years but 65% feel there is not enough housing for young people.
  • 85% believe Covid-19 will have an impact on their future.
  • More than two thirds believed it would be harder for new entrants to get started in farming in the future.
  • Diversification or an off-farm income was seen by 78% as the only way to run a farming business in the future.

The top three challenges for future land management included labour, enterprise start up and technology issues. One-third of respondents stated the skills sets required for farming would need to change with less than half being aware of the new ELM scheme. Over half were confident about increasing productivity but only 50% were confident that they will be able to increase future profitability in farming.

Affordable housing was highlighted as a major stumbling block for young people wanting to remain in the countryside – more than two thirds think there is not enough housing available for rural young people.

But rural young people care about the communities where they live and make positive contributions to them. A lack of services though was a key issue, with young people admitting that the most important facilities they wanted to see available were a community centre/village hall, a youth club or youth service, Wheels to Work and the church.

The pandemic triggered changes in young farmers’ routines, home life, education or employment as well as activities off-farm. While Covid-19 has been easier to manage in rural settings it has driven enhanced feelings of isolation.

The restricted activity has implications and concerns for future sustainability and the impact not only on Young Farmers’ Clubs, but also on the many charities they support by raising and sharing funds.

Ivan Annibal, Managing Director of Rose Regeneration, said:

“Over 500 responses from the people who represent the future of the farming community reveal a fascinating narrative. These are not promising times to be growing up in rural England. Our survey respondents reveal a worldly-wise series of perspectives on the future of farming which show an astonishing depth of insight.

“With not very much cause for optimism this is a group of young people showing a determination to achieve their independence, putting back time and effort into their local communities and planning actively around their training and development.

“They have been socially impacted by coronavirus and feel great uncertainty as the path to Brexit nears its conclusion. Notwithstanding these challenges most are positively getting on with their lives and through this survey provide at least one reason to be cheerful about the future.”

NFYFC will host an online debate during National Young Farmers’ Week to discuss the findings and many other rural and farming topics with a guest panel including NFYFC President, farmer and world-renowned rugby referee Nigel Owens, Ivan Annibal and young farmers Beth Duchesne and Tom Pope.

The survey, which was launched in June 2020, also included a telephone survey to gather feedback from YFC members on the impact the pandemic was having on them and their YFCs.

NFYFC’s YFC AGRI Chairman George Baxter, a member of Cambridgeshire Federation of Young Farmers’ Clubs, said:

“Whilst this research raised some of the obvious issues around lack of affordable housing and the need for connectivity in rural areas, it also highlighted the wealth of skills and experiences of young people growing up on a farm. Diversification and high-level skills will be required and there’s an appetite to develop these. “Young Farmers’ Clubs face significant challenges ahead but it’s clear from the feedback in the survey that the organisation offers an important service to young people in rural areas. These young people also make a vital contribution to the local communities where they live and this has never been so apparent as during the Coivd-19 crisis.”

Read the summary report of the findings here.