Mentorship has become a fast growing trend within agriculture, helping empower and challenge farmers to become more resilient professionally and personally.
Seeking external guidance has become increasingly popular within agricultural circles, with mentorship helping to tackle the isolated nature of farm work and the uncertainties of running a business in an ever-changing industry.
Those speaking to Farmers Guardian say the very nature of the industry, with many businesses run by family members and/or very few employees, means there are limited opportunities to ‘bounce ideas’ off people not directly involved in the farming business.
Elizabeth Hudson, of Future Farmers of Yorkshire, a group supported by the Yorkshire Agricultural Society, says previous generations had often been reluctant to share knowledge or have lacked the skills to articulate it.
However, with the tide turning, a number of opportunities are being flagged up across a range of sectors.
Gavin Lane, chair of the Worshipful Company of Farmers education committee, says: “Gaining advice from people with other life or business experience is commercially invaluable.
“Coupled with that is the ability to offload problems or anxiety to someone who can listen without a vested interest and can provide objective advice and help if you are struggling.”
Einir Haf Davies, a development and mentoring manager who works for Menter a Busnes on the Farming Connect project in Wales, says having a mentor offers multiple benefits, helping farmers share the load and ease any pressures.
He says: “Mentors can help develop an idea with you by listening and questioning your thought process or help you come up with alternative solutions you might not have considered.
“As well as helping solve problems by sharing their own experience or offering a different perspective, they can also be a sounding board and someone to talk to.
“More than 550 farmers have been mentored by other farmers through our programme which was established in 2016.
“Our mentors are there to share their knowledge, experience and impartial views to help other farmers identify and achieve their goals.
“It is an opportunity to develop communication skills, to listen, learn and expand viewpoints, which in turn may help find new ways to approach new situations and deal with challenges.”
Mentorship in itself is diverse and takes place in various formats, from independent and informal discussions between two farmers to training courses developing leadership skills and specific mentoring schemes run by rural organisations.
Launching their global mentoring scheme in January 2021, co-founder of Meat Business Women, Laura Ryan, says she would not be where she is today without mentoring and says she is still a mentee and mentor.
Ms Ryan says: “Three hundred individuals have signed up to Meat Business Women and more are coming on board every single day, with an opportunity to become a mentor, a mentee or both. In addition, 20 major meat processors and suppliers have signed up to our mentoring scheme for their teams so far.
“We offer best practice guides about how to set goals and build a positive relationship, as well as dedicated mentoring sessions for mentors to make sure they are tooled up with the sources they need. You do not need seniority to become a ‘good mentor’.”
Ms Ryan says feedback from the membership highlights a strong desire for mentoring opportunities with people who speak the same language but from a different perspective.
She says: “As our ultimate strategy ambition is to retain talent in the meat industry and accelerate female talent to the top, it is important we do not lose anyone along the way, and mentoring offers a chance to strengthen those networks, as well as access different opportunities.
“Our scheme is primarily a member benefit, but men are very welcome to become members and participate in mentorship.”
The Institution of Agricultural Engineers (IAgrE) also offers experienced mentors to members to assist them with their career development and professional registration.
Charlie Nicklin, chief executive of IAgrE, says: “Our mentoring service was developed in association with the expert mentoring and training partner David Clutterbuck.
“It includes background to mentoring, skills and tools required by a mentor, how to get started, a career path tool, as well as career progression and professional registration.”
Some mentoring schemes are topic specific, such as the British Grassland Society’s (BGS) Grazing Mentors scheme, which has been running since 2008.
Tom Goatman, BGS chief executive, says: “Grass is the cheapest ruminant feed on-farm and is increasingly being recognised for many other benefits too, but it needs actively managing to grow high yields of high quality forage.
“Efficient grazing methods, such as rotational grazing, and more regenerative systems, such as mob grazing, are new to many dairy, cattle and sheep farmers, and BGS Grazing Mentors can help others adapt their systems.
“Any grassland farmers wanting help with their future decision-making about grassland management, and in particular grazing, can apply for the scheme, free of change and they do not need to be BGS members.
“The mentoring lasts one year, but mentors often carry on giving their help and support after this period.”
John Thorley, chair of The Henry Plumb Foundation, a charity established in 2012 which offers financial help and mentoring, says while financial assistance is always important, mentorship might be considered the foundation’s most important offering, with more applications from people purely for mentoring alone.
He says: “Many young people who come to us for assistance already have a reasonably high level of skill and therefore we are less concerned about upskilling at that point than we are about getting them underway in their chosen part of the business.
“Having said that, an important part of the selection process for a mentor is to find individuals with a good record of knowledge who can pass on their experience and expertise to the Henry Plumb Foundation scholar, enabling the chosen scholar to learn almost by osmosis.”