The Cambridgeshire County Council Farms Estate has come under some scrutiny recently.
Jayne and I are in our 20th year as tenants on the 100-year-old estate, and while we have been fortunate to gain other holdings to increase our farmed area, our 120ha “county farm” is the only part of our business with long-term security. We are proud of our connection with the largest county farm estate in the country.
Around the time we gained our first tenancy, the estate was almost sold off with much lobbying to stop the council taking such a course. Time has proven the value of retaining the estate, it has put back over £40m from the sale of small carefully chosen surplus properties over the years, on top of the annual rental income, and it’s worth far more than it was 20 years ago.
The financial value of the estate to the residents of Cambridgeshire is evident, not just from farm rents. Extra income comes from a wind farm, development sales and other lettings, and while there is a massive social and environmental value to the estate, it also offers the opportunity to start farming for a handful of new entrants each year.
With 274 tenants on around 14,000ha, the Cambridgeshire estate has a diverse range of businesses with a significant value to rural communities from the tenants and their families. The estate also shows leadership and industry representation and four out of the last eight NFU county chairmen were estate tenants.
Sir Don Curry has recently, and quite rightly, identified that there should be a progression of tenants from county estates into larger holdings with other landlords. However, a problem that nearly all county farm estates tenants across the country have is that opportunities to gain such a tenancy and to leave our current farms are few and far between.