Trust says new tenants will need off-farm income

There has been no shortage of applicants for the two most recent fell farm tenancies offered by the National Trust in the Lake District.

It’s an encouraging sign, says the NT’s regional farm and countryside adviser Neil Johnson, but he recognises that new hill farm tenants must adopt a radical approach to running their businesses.

“Despite the pressures that hill farming is under, we’re still getting a good response when we have farms to let in the Lake District.

Hill farms are often seen as an opportunity for new entrants – either for people who want to leave a family business and set up on their own or for those working elsewhere in the industry who want to get down to some real farming.

“And taking a farm in the Lake District does mean that a tenant is moving into an area where diversification options have the benefit of the large number of tourists. Both the farms we are currently letting also have tourism-based businesses,” says Mr Johnson.

The Trust has 97 tenanted farms in Cumbria and Lancs, covering 60,000ha (150,000 acres) in total, with 92 of those farms in the Lake District.

Of those 92 only two holdings rely solely on agriculture for their income.

The rest run a range of tourism-based businesses.

But the NT recognises that a growing number of its tenant farmers do not have children that wish to take over the tenancy.

It’s bracing itself for a time in the not-too-distant future when these farms will struggle to find new takers.

“We anticipate that in three or four years’ time there will be a considerable number of tenants retiring but we’re working very hard to instigate new ways to encourage new starters,” says Mr Johnson.

The NT now admits that any new hill farming tenant should not expect to earn 100% of the farm’s income from agriculture but says seeking income from other sources – even away from the farm – can be advantageous.

“It is ironic that this most deeply traditional sector of UK farming is now among the most innovative in terms of seeking income from other sources.

For young people prepared to look at other forms of income to supplement sheep and suckler cows, hill farms in areas like the Lake District can offer a first step on the farming ladder and an entry into a diverse and challenging business.”