From contracting to first-time tenancy

In October, four farmers will be taking on their own tenancy on the Cambridgeshire County Council estate for the first time.

In the second of a three-part series, Ben Pike spoke to Farmers Weekly columnist Matt Redman about taking on a five-year farm business tenancy in 2017, and why he’s glad he missed out on his first tender.

When 29-year-old Matt Redman started his contracting business five years ago, he thought 2017 would be the year he bought his first tractor to run alongside the sprayer.

In fact, it’s going to be the year he takes on nearly 500 acres of Cambridgeshire arable land, and he has already got four tractors, a self-propelled sprayer, a direct drill and full-time staff.

Contracting business

The Harper Adams graduate, who was born into a farming family in Gravenhurst in Bedfordshire, says he is surprised at the rapid rate his business has grown, but that the five-year farm business tenancy (FBT) he takes on in less than three months’ time was always the target.

“When I started contracting the whole idea was to get farming in my own right so I was looking for a tenancy,” he said.

“Contracting was a means of getting the machinery before the land, otherwise I’d be financing the two together which would mean running older kit, so one had to come before the other.”

The right match

Any new entrant will attest to the difficulty of finding a rental opportunity that matches their ambitions, let alone in a good location. Matt thinks he’s found both with Oldfield Farm.

“Finding a tenancy has been hard. I looked at Cambridge before but never applied. With our existing customers being where they are, we had to find somewhere fairly close by.

“This was only the second tenancy I applied for. The first was livestock and arable and I got to the final two or three. But I was glad I didn’t get it after I rejigged my figures.

“I think the first one you go for is quite an emotional thing and you really want it, but with hindsight, Oldfield is a much better option.”

Planning for the future

Matt’s business plan is one of precision and progression. He intends to use the farm as a knowledge hub to exchange information and advice with others.

There are aspirations to become an AHDB Monitor Farm and to engage with the public with school visits and Open Farm Sunday.

Oldfield Farm at a glance

  • Located at Landbeach, six miles north of Cambridge, Oldfield has 489 ring-fenced acres of lime-rich loam and heavy clay soils, all of which are Grade 2 or 3.
  • Buildings include about 450t of grain storage plus a 100t silo, and a general purpose building which serves as a workshop or machinery store.
  • It grows a fairly typical combinable crop rotation of wheat, barley and oilseed rape, and includes a three-bedroom house.

“If we can go somewhere and see how other people are farming, then they can come to us and we can learn and question together. It’s got to be an efficient way of doing things.”

But front and centre of his vision is technology, using the experience and machinery he has built up and applying successful techniques to his own farm.

“Going forward it’s going to be totally soil mapped, we’re going to use variable seed rates and drone map the blackgrass,” he said.

“We’re hitting it with everything you would do on a 5,000-acre estate. It just so happens to be a 500-acre tenancy.”

All the new tenants will start their agreements while the UK is in the EU. By the time they end, the UK will have left.

It’s something Matt says he thought about a great deal, but that ultimately the issues must not obstruct progress.

“Brexit made it challenging to tender because everything is uncertain – be it glyphosate, markets or direct payments. Everything could be affected. But regardless we have to get on.

“We have to build resilience into the business and spreading our risk across the contracting and farming will help with that.

“If we go into it with the attitude that it is all going to change and we can’t do anything until it’s sorted we may as well not bother, but if we accept we will need to adjust and adapt along the way, then there will be opportunities to be had”

Cambridgeshire County Council has opportunities for new tenants on a yearly basis. Holdings available from October 2018 include a 145-acre fully equipped holding in Great Chishall.  A list of Cambridgeshire County Council holdings will be available from January 2018.

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