How a young farmworker helped solve succession crisis on upland farm

The owner of an upland sheep and cattle farm in South Wales has sorted out her succession plan by bringing her farmworker into the business as a junior partner and future heir.

Lorraine Howells, 70, who has lived and worked all her life at Cwmcarno Farm near Merthyr Tydfil, was determined that her holding would pass to a young person who would continue her work despite having no family member interested in taking it on. 

That’s why she has brought Lee Pritchard, 26, who has worked on the farm for 10 years, into the business as a junior partner this year and she has said he can continue to work on the farm for as long as he wishes.

See also: 10 pieces of advice for young people starting in agriculture

No money has changed hands for his stake in the business, but Ms Howells says that this doesn’t mean people should think it hasn’t cost him anything.

“Young people don’t have an opportunity to save up. It has been his hard work over the last 10 years that has been his contribution, rather than a lump sum,” she says.

Gelligaer YFC chairman Mr Pritchard, 26, had previously been working on the farm on a self-employed basis.

He grew up just a few miles from the farm and has always had an interest in agriculture.

“I have always wanted to farm and have put everything aside for that,” he says.

“Not much has changed at this stage except I can sign the cheques,” he explains, saying they had already been discussing business decisions together before the transition.

The 161ha farm, which also enjoys grazing rights on the adjoining Gelligaer and Merthyr Common, supports 800 “Nelson” South Wales Mountain ewes and 30 Welsh Black cattle.

Much of the land is still affected by the legacy of opencast coal mining, common in the area until the 1970s, which has disrupted soil drainage, making land prone to be either very dry or wet.

Venture scheme funding

Mr Pritchard became a partner in the business on 1 January this year after funding from Farming Connect’s Venture service helped navigate the legal hurdles.

Venture, a matchmaking service designed to pair up landowners who are looking to step back from the industry with new entrants, offers funding for business planning and legal guidance.

The new partners say that once they had agreed on a course of action, the actual formalities were fairly straightforward, with one joint meeting between a solicitor, accountant and them able to iron out most details.

All the work done by the solicitor was paid for, and they also benefited from free business planning.

Ms Howells says that she is not alone in having to make a decision that some may regard as radical.

“The hardest thing to do is letting go. I have made all the decisions on my own here for years [but] older people can’t do the work, and younger people have not got the money to buy into a business. It is something that a lot of farmers have to recognise,” she warns.

She says the only other alternatives would have been to sell the farm, which would have meant her having to leave her home, or grass letting, which would have also meant losing control to an extent.

Bringing a successor into the business has therefore been the option which has given them both long-term security and, while both parties laughingly admit they “argue like hell”, a frank exchange of viewpoints often sees disagreements getting resolved.

Good working relationship

This good working relationship has also given them confidence to plan for the future, and they have jointly purchased a block of land some 11 miles away from the main holding.

This will support a planned increase in both ewe and cattle numbers as well as adding higher-quality grazing land with a view to fattening more lambs off grass and forage crops.

Cwmcarno is one of five farms that supply Cig Mynydd Cymru (Welsh Mountain Meat), a butcher’s shop in the nearby village of Treharris, and it also sells meat at local farmers’ markets.

They say that selling via the shop has enabled them to improve prices for their livestock and given them the security of having a guaranteed market for at least a portion of their output.

A portion of the flock are crossed to Texel and Suffolk rams, with the remainder put back to the Welsh ram to provide replacements or sold through the breeding ring.

Increasing carcass weights of the lambs going into the food chain is a key focus as they look to Brexit-proof their business, as the main outlet for lighter lambs is the vulnerable European market.

It’s a similar story in the cattle enterprise, with a Charolais bull recently purchased to increase the weaning weight of calves, which will then be sold store instead of fat.

A portion of the herd will continue to be kept pure Welsh Black, and fattened, as a premium can be realised from marketing them through the butchery, with the aim being to double cow numbers by retaining more females for breeding.

What is the Venture scheme?

Run by Farming Connect, the Welsh government’s organisation for delivering European rural development funding, Venture is a matchmaking scheme designed to pair up young entrants looking for land and landowners seeking someone to collaborate with.

As well as introducing potential new business partners, the scheme also funds business planning for the new venture.

There are more than 300 members, with 40 potential matches currently being investigated to see if they will support joint venture options.

To date, nine partnerships have completed the process and established a business together, and 14 partnerships are in the final stages of completion.

Anyone in Wales interested in finding out how to get involved can  visit the Farming Connect Venture website or call 08456 000 813.

What to do if you live outside of Wales

A similar scheme also exists for those in England and Scotland, called the Fresh Start Land Enterprise.

This offers advice for those who are looking to set up a business, enter a joint venture, develop existing family businesses or have an opportunity to offer others.

There are currently 11 opportunities advertised on its website from both landowners and those looking for an opportunity to go into partnership.

Northern Irish farmers looking to register their interest in participating in a joint venture scheme should contact the Land Mobility Scheme Northern Ireland.

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