Well Ladies and Gentlemen, I’m so glad I’ve got this opportunity to join you all this afternoon.
I had this dreadful thought that all I had done was to stop you doing all sorts of other things you’d much rather be doing! Having been President of the young farmers’ club for a couple of years – which I enjoy enormously – means that I’ve had the opportunity to meet quite a lot of young farmers in different parts of the country. Having this chance today to come and see you even for a short time is greatly appreciated and I’ve been fascinated in the time I’ve had to have a brief word with some of you, and in particular those of you who have had some connection or contact with my Countryside Fund. So, to hear the difference, perhaps, that the help from my fund has made has been a particularly interesting development. I was slightly alarmed when you said that you were looking forward to what I had to say – the trouble is it may take a very long time! I don’t want to keep you for very long. I know many of you already study here at the college so that you are better equipped for the very challenging world that we now have in order to make a reasonable life and in particular a life in the agricultural or horticultural sectors.
It is absolutely clear that the most fundamental challenges the world faces over the coming years will need to be solved by those working in agriculture. Feeding a population of nine billion people - and growing (is that sustainable in itself?) - with reducing resources, not to mention the inevitable impact of climate change, while at the same time sustaining Nature’s capacity to sustain us, will be no mean feat. Apart from anything else, it will require a different approach – an approach that puts Nature and the protection of her ecosystems back at the heart of the whole process so as to ensure genuine food security, not to mention long-term human health. It will require re-discovering how to work with Nature, rather than against her. It will also require the very best of human ingenuity and resourcefulness. And that is why it is so important that young people still see agriculture, horticulture and its associated activities as the career for them. I’ve been talking earlier on to some of you about the reasons why so many young people don’t see agriculture or horticulture as viable careers to go in to. As I was saying earlier, I still feel very strongly that the school farm could play such a valuable part in introducing at an early stage the whole process of growing something or looking after an animal.
I need hardly say how delighted I was that one of the first groups to apply to my Prince’s Countryside Fund for a grant was the Lincolnshire YFC, for a really innovative programme offering everything from tractor-driving lessons to interview training – in other words, preparing its members for work in the rural community and thereby keeping our countryside alive.
That connection between the health of the agricultural sector and the health of the rural community is something which is so strong, but not always understood and it is why I set up my Countryside Fund just over a year ago. After all, if we take away the family farms and the farmers, what would be left? As each and every one of you understands, the special bits of the countryside so beloved by visitors do not just happen by accident. It is farmers who created it and who now care for it. But the role they and their families play goes further than that. It doesn’t matter if it is diversified businesses run by farmers’ wives, school governors, the W.I., Churchwardens and P.C.C. members, midwives, teachers, village shop volunteers, or rotary club – they are so often the very lifeblood of our villages. They make the communities which those from urban areas find so attractive and increasingly need in order to recover from the ever more frenetic pace of their lives.
My Countryside Fund aims to explain this relationship to those who, perhaps, are not part of a rural community, but who enjoy the fruits of your labours. By putting the Countryside Fund – which I see many of you are rather tactfully wearing today - logo on a whole range of products that appear on supermarket shelves, we are attempting both to raise money to help care for those people who look after the countryside as well as begin to tell a story about where our food actually comes from and who is responsible for producing it.
I particularly want to pay tribute to the twenty-two companies which make it all possible by supporting the Fund. I am delighted that we have some of the most ardent supporters here today, to whom I can only offer my special thanks. I hope that, having seen the Lincolnshire YFCs today, you realize just how important your efforts are.
A few moments ago I joined a fascinating discussion with some of you about how we can encourage more young people to follow in your footsteps into agriculture. My Rural Action Programme has created an initiative, in partnership with others within food and farming sector, to address this problem and I really am indebted to David Yiend of AB Agri for taking this project on. He has already shown great tenacity and determination in bringing it to this stage and I have a sense of his very personal commitment to the cause.
Ladies and gentlemen, I do not think I need to persuade anyone here of the importance of protecting our rural communities and sustaining them, for this generation and those yet to come. They are a national asset of incalculable value and one that, once lost, can never be recreated. It is their future to which my Countryside Fund is committed and it is why we need all the support possible.