Having trained as a chartered surveyor in Wales, Gail Lewis is used to discussing entry, exits and expansion in the agricultural industry.
A personal interest in the subject, coupled with professional experiences at work, she was further driven by an outcome for one particular client after becoming involved with the letting of a farm holding on a Farm Business Tenancy.
The clients had initially stated they wished to let the farm to a young farmer but, although young farmers were shortlisted for interview, an existing farmer secured the tenancy as the young farmers were not felt to have enough financial stability and experience.
She says: “I was so disappointed. I began to wonder what other mechanisms were available to young farmers to gain entry into the agricultural industry.”
Witnessing other existing farmers looking to remain in farming but with no available successors, she was inspired to investigate what land tenure options were available to safeguard the industry for the future.
In 2014, Gail successfully applied for a Nuffield farming scholarship, which saw her travel to southern Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil and around the UK, to investigate the strengths and weaknesses of current land tenure options to understand what choices could be available in the UK.
Planning her trip, she began by researching her topic in Australia and New Zealand, looking for papers, speakers and case studies.
“The Nuffield Trust also has a vast diary of scholars and I also called upon a number of them who provided me with a bed, lent me vehicles, talked to me about my subject and introduced me to their friends and neighbours.”
"I thought the crux to my subject would solely be about the various land tenure models but I was wrong" - Gail Lewis
What Gail discovered throughout her travels was the opposite of what she believed she might find. “I thought the crux to my subject would solely be about the various land tenure models but I was wrong.
“My subject base is land tenure but it must also be considered in line with succession, relationships and communication.
“I realised joint ventures alongside traditional ownership and leasehold were key to allow farmers to expand, diversify, and reduce costs to become more competitive, while they also provided an opportunity for those who wish to start in the industry.”
Such tenure models include share-farming, contract farming, contract heifer rearing, lease of heifers, co-operatives, equity partnerships and syndications.
“People are vital to any successful land tenure model adopted and the relationship between the parties is the key to success. The business is important but to ensure success and avoid failure, it is vital the relationships are concentrated on; they are the key.”
“Any person who wishes to undertake a joint venture must be aware of who they are, what their strengths and weaknesses are and be willing to compromise to ensure success. In any land tenure model, the biggest weakness and most common factor of failure is the relationship.
“A strong relationship which is reviewed and developed can also be the biggest strength, seeing business relationships proper and develop. Trust and communication are the two main ingredients to a successful joint venture.”
Citing New Zealand as the most inspiring country she visited, she also discovered other surprising initiatives closer to home.
“Each and every country was inspiring in its own way. In Brazil I saw many opportunities and vast scale, coupled with many challenges. In Ireland I witnessed a clear understanding and drive towards linking together the current generation and the next generation with the establishment of the Land Mobility Service, which aims to link together the current farmer and the next generation.
"It was surprising to learn they have far more existing farmers interested in the service than young farmers.
“In Australia I saw a keen knowledge of the importance of running a viable business and discussing succession at an early stage. In Wales, I saw models which were different to the norm and successfully operating.
"But I have to say for a number of reason, New Zealand was the most inspiring country, having dealt with the challenges of the removal of subsidies in the 1980s and having clear steps towards land ownership and being involved in the industry now in place.
“It is not easy anywhere in the world and each country has its challenges; two important challenges true in every country were increasing land values and succession, but there are opportunities.
Turning her thoughts to the UK, Gail understands there are not specific models which can fit every situation and each one must be adapted to suit those involved, meeting their needs, ambitions and goals.
"From my travels, I have realised there are more options for the UK and these agreements can be successful by having clear, aligned goals, honest, communication and passion" - Gail Lewis
“The UK has for many years been confined to the traditional land tenure models of either freehold or leasehold under the 1986 or 1995 act.
“From my travels, I have realised there are more options for the UK and these agreements can be successful by making sure the parties involved have clear, aligned goals, honesty, communication and passion.
“Using different models will encourage innovation, entrepreneurship, expansion and succession in the industry, ensuring a sustainable future for the farmer and the next generation.
“There needs to be a change in mindset to embrace and look for differing opportunities with the support of the industry behind it. The Mentro/Venture scheme of the Welsh Government is a clear step in the right direction.”
“It is often suggested there is no entry into agriculture unless by inheritance, but this is the view of the pessimist. Everything is possible and there are various land tenure models which can be implemented by new entrants and existing farmers as stepping stones onto the farming ladder.
"The optimist sees the difficulties of high land values and lack of land available as an opportunity to do something different to achieve the goal of farming.”
Gail’s conclusions from her study will now underpin the advice she gives to her clients on the range of options. She is also speaking to the Welsh Government about her recommendations and conclusions.
Here she gives us the key messages she will driving forward.
Facilitating new forms of land tenure models, run independently from Government but with full support
Showcasing model farms operating different land tenure models as proof of success to parties who are interested in commencing a joint venture/new tenure models
Training professionals in different land tenure models
Drafting model agreements for the various land tenure models available which can be inspected by each party in the agreement. These can then be tailored to suit as no two agreements are the same
Creating a network of contacts to assist those interested in entering new tenure models, coupled with a database of existing farmers and new farmers
Setting up discussion groups which can be facilitated by an ancillary body where parties can become familiar with each other before finalising an agreement