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Young people being called to help with farming in Northern Ireland

As the fields prepare for their caretakers to start the harvest and labour shortages bite, young people in Northern Ireland are being called to get involved in farming over the summer holidays.

While the fields, greenhouses, and orchards continue to ripen beneath the tranquil and picturesque façade of the countryside, farmers are increasingly concerned there are not enough people to harvest the crops, compounding the pressures they endured following the unprecedented rainfall earlier this year and farmers are calling on young hands to help.

If we look back, school holidays in Northern Ireland were geared around allowing young people to help with the harvest. While the cost-of-living crisis continues and the summer holidays approach, it's prime time to get kids off their tablets, TV and out of the house into the fields.

Farming is a fantastic way to keep them occupied, learn life skills, connect with the countryside, local wildlife and of course earn some money.

As a young 14-year-old lad many years ago living in a rural area, I remember fondly being with my Dad as he sharpened the knives of the local farmer, J S Reid and Sons, John Deere Bailer before undergoing a very intensive job interview with the farmer in question “what are you doing at 8am on Saturday? To which I replied nothing as far as I know. This was met with “meet me here in the yard then”.

Summer holidays quickly went by helping bring in the harvest, allowing the opportunity to embrace the countryside and its wildlife, delivering hay and straw to other farms across Northern Ireland, and if I was lucky, the odd Monday spent at Ballyclaire Mart. After the holidays, I balanced school with weekend work, staying on at the farm to help tend to livestock cattle and sheep and help with the potato harvest. This undoubtedly taught me the value of hard work and the value of money. I was earning a wage, life skills, respect for the countryside and creating fond memories I carry to this day, but enough of me reminiscing.

During the pandemic, many rolled up their sleeves to help the farming sector which needed to continue to feed the nation but many of these people have now returned to their normal employment and now labour shortages are threatening harvests, the need for young hands on the farm has never been more urgent.

As Northern Ireland continues to rely heavily on our agri-food industry and summer approaches the fields await their caretakers. The current issues highlight that investing in farming isn't just about growing crops and raising livestock but it's about cultivating a work ethic and a sense of responsibility in the next generation. The call for new young people to roll up their sleeves and get involved in farming reverberates through the countryside.

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