In Lancashire, 20-year-old George Stott has taken over the tenancy of a dairy farm, while in Derbyshire, 23-year-old Michael Longworth is fast approaching his first lambing on his Peak District hill farm.
Mr Stott must be one of the UK’s youngest tenant farmers. At the 53ha Parkers Farm in Claughton-on-Brock, near Garstang, he’s now milking about 60 cows – predominantly Jerseys alongside some Holstein Friesians.
He still remembers making the first phone call to the Kirkby Lonsdale land agent Davies and Bowring after hearing it had a tenancy to offer on the estate of the Fitzherbert-Brockholes family.
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“It did seem a bit unreal at the time, but I’d always wanted to farm and didn’t want any opportunity to pass me by – despite my age,” says Mr Stott, who runs the farm with his girlfriend Katie Butler.
His work ethic as a teenager clearly demonstrated his determination to milk his own cows – and he admits work came before pleasure. “Any of my friends will tell you I probably spent a lot less time going out and enjoying myself than they did. But I was focused on saving as much money as I could.”
Fresh Start Scheme
Fresh Start courses are run by the National Centre for the Uplands at Newton Rigg College, Penrith, Cumbria.
The 10-week part-time course enlists experts from a wide range of professions and services involved in the industry to give guidance to budding farmers who are hoping to apply for a tenancy.
The Upland Centre’s Michaela Dixon says: “Within the course we look at how a prospective tenant can generate additional income from diversification or even get involved in joint ventures with the landlord.
“There’s also time spent on farm finances and cashflow with accountants and bank specialists as well as learning how to build flexibility into a business plan.”
Ms Dixon adds: “It’s about making contacts, too. We brought in more than 40 people to give talks during the course we held in Yorkshire. The Fresh Start scheme also stages a mock tenancy presentation undertaken by everyone on the course.”
Mr Stott was keen on setting up a small dairy herd when his father, who also ran a farm contracting business, started to buy in Jersey heifer calves at their home in Inskip, near Preston.
The family eventually found themselves milking 40 Jerseys in a unit created from scratch – but Mr Stott ended up offering to buy the cows and rent the buildings from his father and milk the herd on his own account.
“But I always knew I wanted to rent a farm of my own and when this new opportunity came up, I knew I had to go for it,” he says.
He drew on the experience he gained during two years on a dairy management course at Reaseheath College and began to prepare a three-year business plan and cashflow forecasts.
“I’ve always enjoyed having a plan and sticking to it, so preparing the business plan was a good exercise,” he says.
And his figures certainly demonstrated he was well prepared to take on the challenge.
Asking any bank to back a 20-year-old in his first farming venture is no easy task, but Mr Stott overcame any hesitancy on the part of his bankers with his vision, commitment and solid track record, gained at such a young age.
“Resisting the temptation to spend money you don’t have is very important. We’re very strict about what we spend and need to get the best value out of everything,” he says.
“I’ve been very lucky to be given this opportunity. One of the biggest hurdles for anyone trying to start on a tenanted farm is the value of land and the rents that have to reflect that value.
“A lot of estates would have added this holding on to another and the opportunity for someone to get started would have been lost. I’m very grateful to the Fitzherbert-Brockholes family for giving me the chance.”
Mr Stott’s landlord Francis Fitzherbert-Brockholes explains why he had the confidence to take on a young farmer.
“My preference is always to keep a farm operating as a stand-alone family enterprise and in granting new tenancies over the past 20-odd years, I have generally favoured tenants who will fit into that mould. George will, I think, fit well and I wish him and Katie many years of successful farming.
“Not only that, he is a great enthusiast for the future of the dairy industry.”
Meanwhile, Cumbria farmer’s son Michael Longworth, 23, has been successful in winning a 10-year farm business tenancy at North Lees Farm, in Hathersage, Derbyshire, owned by the Peak District National Park.
Mr Longworth had previously been on a Fresh Start scheme organised by the National Centre for the Uplands (see above).
He said there was no doubt the scheme made a big difference to the way they approached the application for the tenancy.
“It gave us a clearer understanding about planning a farm’s finances, as well as our rights as tenants. It helped us present our livestock business plan and gave us plenty of new contacts in the industry,” says Mr Longworth, who farms in partnership with his fiancée Diane Atkinson.
He took over the 445ha last September and starts lambing the farm’s 300 Swaledale and Herdwick ewes next month.
“We knew we needed a very clear business plan and one that would present a vision for the farm’s future. But it had to be deliverable. “We were totally honest and realistic about what we felt we could achieve,’ Mr Longworth says.
“There’s nothing to be gained by telling a landlord what you think he wants to hear if you can’t deliver. Landlords know what a farm is capable of, which is why anyone applying for a tenancy must be open about their intentions and not propose things they can’t realistically achieve.”
Top tenancy tips from the TFA
There are still opportunities for youngsters to get a foot on the farming ladder – but applicants must prove they are committed and dedicated to the industry, writes Tenant Farmers Association chief executive George Dunn.
It’s a major decision for both the landlord and the tenant. To be successful, applicants must be able to demonstrate their skills, practical farming ability and business experience as well as financial sustainability and sound judgement.
While new entrants often feel at a disadvantage because they may not be able to match a higher rent offered by an established applicant, the TFA says that does not necessarily mean the higher rent will be successful.
It’s important the new entrant knows the nature of the landlord offering the opportunity and why the farm is being let.
There’s tough competition in the marketplace and there are many landlords looking purely for the highest rent from the least risky option.
A new entrant is unlikely to be able to compete with that level of competition, but other landlords are looking for a long-term relationship and are willing to assist new entrants. Understanding what drives the landlord is very important.
While a county council holding was long considered to be an ideal starter farm, opportunities in this sector of the let market have become more limited following the trend for county councils to sell rented farms.
But the TFA believes this sector still offers a chance for first-timers. Sell-offs of county council farms grab the headlines, but there are still many councils with rented farms.
County councils as well as landlords such as the National Trust will generally look more favourably on an applicant who is prepared to deliver wider objectives and who shows a commitment to enhance the environment or who has an interest in educational visits or public access.