Following on from the successful New Entrants to Farming Gathering which was held last year at Murrayfield, Scotland’s Rural College played host to two regional events. Farmers Guardian takes a look at the highlights.
Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead met with new farmers recently at an event designed to bring together an emerging group within Scotland’s future industry.
Addressing about 100 delegates, Mr Lochhead kicked off the first of this year’s Scottish Government’s New Entrants to Farming gathering, hosted by Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) in Elgin, by outlining the continuing importance of engaging with new entrants in the farming industry.
He said: “It is vital we attract and fully engage with talented, entrepreneurial, new entrants to agriculture in order to safeguard the future of the industry as it drives innovation and best practice, improves efficiencies and contributes towards the economic vitality of the sector as a whole.
The conference was held as part of the Scottish Rural Development Programme’s New Entrants scheme. This was set up to ensure potential and aspiring new farmers were aware of the opportunities which exist and have a skills and knowledge set which equips them for success.
Topics discussed at the event included CAP reform opportunities for new entrants, fundamentals of getting a foothold in the industry, new technologies emerging in agriculture and the experiences of Forestry Commission starter farm tenants.
Mr Lochhead said: “Agriculture is a fantastic sector to be a part of and things are really looking up for new entrants - we’re witnessing an increase in applications to study agriculture at colleges across Scotland.
“New entrants will benefit from the Common Agricultural Policy under both Pillar One and Two - and tenants who were wholly or partly frozen out under the old system will also reap the rewards.
“We are also seeing the introduction of starter farms on public land to help new entrants get a foot on the ladder, including the Scottish Government’s own starter farm at Balrobert, outside Inverness.”
There are 10 new entrant groups in Scotland, featuring about 150 aspiring farmers.
If at first you don’t succeed - try, try, try again, says Scottish farmer Ross Williams, who had to wait seven years to win a farm tenancy.
Such was their tenacity, he and wife Kirsty had, at one point, a sheep flock grazing more than 12 seasonal lets across Aberdeenshire, dealing with all the relevant landlords while they also held down full-time jobs.
After years spent building their flock and applying for five different tenancies, the couple were finally successful in winning a starter farm tenancy near Huntly, and they moved in about a year ago.
People who were less determined might have given up, but sheep are a passion for the couple. Ross is originally from a farming family in Somerset, while Kirsty’s father is farm manager of an estate near Aviemore and they met while studying at SRUC’s Auchincruive campus, Ayr.
Both already had small flocks, with Ross entering carcase competitions with progeny from Rouge cross Suffolk ewes crossed with a Beltex ram, before keeping Beltex ewes. Kirsty used money from her 21st birthday to buy Zwartbles, a breed she had seen and liked on a visit to the farm of the late Willie Davidson at Poldean.
Ross says: “You have to create your own opportunities and if at first you don’t succeed - try, try, try again.
“If you’re unsuccessful with a tenancy bid, pick yourself up and try again - use the experience to make you stronger.
“The interview we had for this farm was daunting. We had made up a folder to tell our story as part of it - we thought it might take their eyes off us for a bit. But we are a living example of how being determined in your goals does eventually pay off.”
The 45-hectare (110-acre) hill unit has a modern house and general-purpose shed and the couple are working on improving their grassland through draining and reseeding.
Now a Barenbrug trial farm, the couple are using new varieties in reseeds and recording flock performance.
Kirsty says: “Our aim is to build enough capital over our 10-year tenancy so we have a bigger balance sheet and are in a better position to tender and compete against established farmers.
“We both still work full-time, so we do not need it to live on. But we are buying assets with any profit, such as better tups, as we want to keep improving the flock.”