27 November 2000
‘Low milk prices give youth a chance’

By Alistair Driver

PLUMMETING milk prices have created a rare “window of opportunity” for young people to start farming, a seminar at the Royal Smithfield Show heard.

James Robertson, a tenant farmer with 600 acres and over 400 dairy cows, said landlords were ready to accept less rent because of the farm crisis.

“Quota value used to present a huge obstacle for tenant farmers. But with the quota value now gone, rents are no longer linked to that great nefarious asset.”

Mr Robertson added: “There has never been a better time for young, hard-working tenants to get into the industry.”

This window of opportunity is likely to remain open as long as milk prices remain depressed, probably well into next year, he said.

But anyone entering the industry should invest as little money as possible in the early days to get a foothold, at least until prices rise again.

Mr Robertson said: “It is best to start with a simple system that can be run by one man, have total control of all assets and no capital inputs,” he said.

Mr Robertson, a Shropshire man who came into the industry from a non-farming background in 1984, has 270 organic cows.

But he said going straight into organic farming was a “non-starter” for new-entrants because it takes more than two years to convert.

Asked about the prospects for new entrants into the beef and sheep industries, Mr Robertson and the seminar panellists agreed they were not as bright.

But Sue Guy, who started milk production four years ago, said new entrants who budgeted correctly and were good at marketing could thrive.