5 tips for new entrants from award-winning mixed farmer

Starting a new farming business can be a huge challenge, with many people finding it a struggle to step into the agricultural world.

But with careful planning, budgeting and a good work ethic, potential new entrants can successfully start up a new business.

Welsh mixed farmer Martin Evans, who won Farmers Weekly Awards 2019: Mixed Farmer of the Year, runs a 450ha dairy, poultry and arable farm.

He got started after working on his parents’ 24ha council holding and offers his five top tips to other new entrants.

1. Network

Mr Evans’ first tip is to ensure new entrants are aware of the opportunities that exist for young people and have the skills and ability to equip themselves for a successful start in the agricultural industry.

He explains how important it is to network with as many people as possible to get the support you need to enhance your farming experience.

See also: The scheme helping new entrants and farmers start joint ventures

“Listen to the different generations as they have a passion for success, and discuss potential new business ideas with your family, as this can be really helpful,” he adds.

Social media can also be an effective tool to enhance farm business start-ups, but if used incorrectly, it can be severely damaging, he warns.

Farm background

Martin Evans runs a 450ha mixed farm near Owestry with two of his sons, James and Josh. A large proportion of his land base is under a 41-year farm business tenancy (FBT).

His farming journey began in 1989, milking on his parents’ 14ha council holding. He later purchased a 70ha farm in 1993, where he gradually added land and property, and took on tenanted land to increase the size of his dairy herd.

Enterprises now include a 650-cow dairy unit, managed by his son, James. Cows are milked three times daily through a rapid-exit Boumatic parlour and are averaging 12,300 litres/year.

A 100,000-bird poultry unit and contracting business covering 6,500ha has also been set up, managed by Josh. 

The family also run a building business, holiday lets and an arable enterprise growing grass, maize and wheat to feed the dairy herd.

The team is now looking to expand the dairy; 700 youngstock will soon be ready to join the herd and new building developments are being undertaken to accommodate this expansion.

Mr Evans also says a good education can provide a successful route into the industry.

“My son, James, studied agriculture and animal science at university, which broadened his dairy knowledge and certainly helped him run the 650-head dairy unit,” he says.

“After he graduated, James came home to work on the family farm, where we decided to move to three-times-a-day milking, while focusing on lameness and fertility protocols, in a bid to increase milk yields.”

2. Diversification

Diversification is crucial when initiating a new enterprise, says Mr Evans, who advises farmers to look for new ideas that can add value to the farm

“I firmly believe a point of difference is required to make a successful business, but you must work inside your own perimeters and do what is right for you. Otherwise, if you think too far outside the box, it just won’t work,” he explains.

Mr Evans has three sons, two of whom are business partners on the mixed farm. He says it is in his family’s nature to grow the business to allow it to be as diverse and sustainable as possible.

A 100,000-head broiler building was established in 2018, after second son Josh thought it would be a good idea to diversify into the poultry sector to enhance business resilience.

“The milk price in 2015-16 was extremely poor, so we needed to find an alternative way to grow our business and at the time poultry markets were doing well,” says Mr Evans.

Further diversifications include an 18-bed holiday home, which was completed last year; solar panels; and two biomass boilers: one powering the holiday home and the second the broiler sheds.

“Change is vital, but it’s essential to not be afraid of this and be as adaptable as possible to situations,” he advises.

3. Business planning

Financing new businesses can be difficult, but Mr Evans highlights that setting up a farm business today could in fact be easier than when he started out farming, thanks to help from shared farming and joint venture arrangements.

In 1993, when he began farming, Mr Evans had to take out loans from the banks at a 10% fixed interest rate.

“It was a very challenging time – milk quotas were in place, which heavily restricted our expansion and caused financial difficulties,” he admits.

However, today he feels various share-farming opportunities offer new entrants simplistic access into the farming world.

He also reckons joint ventures offer a great way for people to generate equity by creating access to farm businesses with little capital investment required.

4. Work ethic

Positivity and a strong work ethic are critical in establishing a successful business, with hard work, dedication and commitment key to success.

“If I was to put my achievements of how I got to where I am today down to one thing, it would have to be sheer hard work,” Mr Evans says.

He had to set up a building business, working five days a week in the construction industry between milkings, to help finance the farm.

He admits there will be many challenges along the way, and that things will never be as easy as they seem.

“You may begin to doubt yourself, but an element of cautiousness is not a bad trait, as this prepares for any potential issues which may come your way,” he explains.

It’s essential that you persevere through difficult times in order make a success of your future business and by ensuring you stay enthusiastic, you can push yourself to achieve your goals.

Mr Evans suggests attending farm discussion groups and benchmarking sessions to stay enthused and motivated, as this really helped him to gain new ideas.

5. Succession

Finally, he advises new entrants to consider succession planning, as a smooth transition of farm businesses from one generation to the next is vital.

By diversifying his business further, Mr Evans has ensured that two of his sons can continue farming by managing their own individual enterprises.

Succession can be a tricky topic for many to tackle. The thought of uncomfortable discussions with family members is often unappealing. 

However, if the correct approach is taken, at the right time, it can provide certainty for the future, while motivating the next generation.

About Farmers Weekly Awards 2020

The Farmers Weekly 2020 Mixed Farmer of the Year Award is sponsored by Massey Ferguson.

Massey FergusonJoin Farmers Weekly in celebrating the farming industry and recognising the hard work of UK farmers and enter the awards today.

Alternatively, nominate a deserving individual for an award.

For more information about the Farmers Weekly Awards 2020, pay a visit to the official website.