Charity Spotlight: South of England Agricultural Society encouraging young and disabled people to get into agriculture

"We're concerned as a society to do all we can to get the next generation involved in agricultural and farming careers" said Iain Nicol, CEO of the South of England Agricultural Society (SEAS).

The charity, which funds and supports agricultural education and countryside learning, provides grants, bursaries, scholarships and events for people involved or interested in farming and agriculture.

One of the South of England Agricultural Society's events

One of the South of England Agricultural Society's events

All of its activities aim to celebrate, build awareness and develop understanding of the products that come from land based and allied industries by organising and hosting shows and events that promote farming, agriculture and the countryside, including its flagship event, the South of England Show, which takes place in June each year.

Mr Nicol said: "Our charity puts on the show and lots of things below the surface of it.

"We help people through the Jim Green Challenge, Connect for the Countryside teaches 2,500 children from 60 schools about where their food comes from.

"We grant bursaries to help people study abroad to learn about agriculture and farming - people have gone to New Zealand to learn about sheep, Spain for wine growing.

"We've also helped people trying to diversify their farm go to America to find out about events they could do."

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The Next Generation

Through its Next Generation work, SEAS helps to promote and support innovation in food, growing, and all aspects of the countryside, and to attract young people into considering an agricultural career through its events, competitions, and scholarships.

Mr Nicol said: "We're concerned as a society to do all we can to get the next generation involved in the society and involved in agricultural and farming careers.

"Farming has become a high technology industry - agriculture now accounts for 0.6 per cent of GDP, instead of 1.3 per cent in 1990.

"It is not a growing sector, but it needs people who have the skills and aptitude to work with new technology, even though people don't see it as high-tech."

One of SEAS' roles is to celebrate achievements and innovations of the next generation by sharing stories from people starting careers in rural industries.

Mr Nicol said: "We aim to promote the industry as a whole to either sex, and there is no case presented for one or the other.

"In our events like our STEM event and Big Bang South East, which had around 12,000 people attend, there were people of all ages and genders, and an even split of genders.

"We're really encouraged by that."

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Jim Green Challenge

To help disabled students, SEAS runs an annual competition for 50 children around the region.

The Jim Green Challenge has been held annually since 1999 and is designed for students with mild or moderate learning difficulties attending land-based colleges and further education centres.

Mr Nicol said: "It is a one day interactive event competition for 50 students from around the region.

"They take part in planting, cooking, baking, scarecrow making and more."

The competition is in memory of Jim Green, one of the original members of the society and ex-chairman, in recognition of his lifelong interest in the education and training of young people.

SEAS is based at the South of England Showground, Ardingly, West Sussex, RH17 6TL.