13/08/2013 09:12 BST | Updated 13/08/2013 09:12 BST

Looking to the Future of Farming

The challenges facing the food industry are well known. From tackling the variable weather to feeding a growing population, we need to think about how we can innovate and adopt new ways of doing things.

But there's one thing that often isn't raised when the food industry looks at the challenges they're facing, and it's an issue that I feel is key to unlocking the future of sustainable and competitive supply chains. How do we help farming innovate and evolve for the future? How do we do that in terms of the methods and approaches used and how do we ensure there is a new generation of leading business minds to put them into action?

With the average age of a farmer being over 50 it's important to attract and train young talent to drive technical development in a sustainable way and build on Sainsbury's heritage in food technology and product development. Without bringing the next wave of talent into the UK farming industry, we will come unstuck in the future for appropriate skills or capability to make the most of the technology and innovations that offer such valuable opportunities to the industry. Developing the next generation of leaders is also crucial in driving technical development in a sustainable way to ultimately provide safe, healthy and nutritious food which is affordable and accessible to all.

The good news is that we're tackling this head on. Last month the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills announced the Agricultural Technologies Strategy, a £160million investment that will bring new opportunities to the industry - both for young people and established farmers - and pave the way for much needed innovation and development. As co-chair of the strategy's Leadership Group, I'm extremely proud to be helping put in place things that I'm confident will make a tangible difference to the industry, both today and indeed tomorrow.

At Sainsbury's we have recently launched a graduate scheme that's dedicated to finding the future leaders of British agriculture. his is something that will bring benefits to the whole supply chain from our farmers and growers in the field through to our customers enjoying what is on their plate.

In September, this first-of-its-kind programme, which has been developed in partnership with some of our leading suppliers, will welcome three agricultural and horticulture graduate trainees to begin a two year programme of training, paving the way for an on-going intake of graduates to join the farming scheme each year. Our graduates will each undertake four six-month placements working with leading suppliers across the agriculture and horticulture industries, developing the skills that will make them tomorrow's leaders.

Programmes such as this are needed to demonstrate the opportunities that exist in one of our most important industries, to show young people options that they might not otherwise consider. Agriculture is big business and we're in an extremely exciting period, on the cusp of realising the full potential of big data and new innovations that can make big impacts on the way we source our food.

It's often said that a company or industry is only as good as its people; the success of British farming proves just how good its people are and with the right support and hungry young minds, it's exciting to think what's to come.