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Getting Started: First generation farmers, how they found their way into agriculture

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Clare and Rupert Smith wanted a change in career, and sheep farming seemed to combine both their skill sets. Despite their struggles with finance and land, the couple found their way into agriculture.
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Clare and Rupert Smith
Clare and Rupert Smith

Clare and Rupert Smith were first generation farmers with drastically different career prospects.

 

While Clare studied Agriculture and Marketing at Harper Adams University, Rupert was studying Hospitality and Business Management at Birmingham.

 

Change

 

After meeting on online dating site, Muddy Matches, Clare and Rupert were both looking for something else in their careers.

 

"We wanted to get out hands dirty and sheep farming was the most accessible step into agriculture for us."

 

Having worked in the pig and poultry industries and seen how attention to detail can bring results, Clare and Rupert saw the opportunity to take this approach with lamb production.

 

Share farming

After two years, they were approached by a local landowner to enter into a share farming agreement.

 

"This allowed us to grow our flock to 400 ewes and for Rupert to give up work to do the sheep full time giving us both some breathing space after we had been fitting 200 ewes around our full time jobs," explained Clare.

Q: What issues have you come across on your venture into agriculture?

A:

 

Access to finance

The bank (agriculture department) said no to a loan for us to buy the sheep, even though they thought the business plan was good.

 

We had to borrow money from family, and it will take us 10 years to pay it back.

 

Not having a farm, and not doing it full time

Shearers, feed deliveries, deadstock collection - they all just want to turn up 'sometime this week'.

 

We really struggled to get the message across that we would both be at work and we needed to arrange a definitive time so we could take time off to be there.

 

One delivery driver got use to unloading into the garage of our semi-detached in the middle of town whilst we were at work!

 

Getting enough grazing

Competition is high and often we have not had the money to be able to pay the going rent, so have grazed lots of rough, un-fenced, un-watered plots.

 

By being good tenants and being patient with untangling electric fencing and carrying containers of water, our reputation has grown and we now have 22 different sites.

Q: What are your plans for the future?

A: We want to use our retail and catering experience to make the most of our lamb and take it directly to people’s plates with the tastiest recipes.

Clare and Rupert's Top Tips on how to enter the farming industry

Clare and Rupert's Top Tips on how to enter the farming industry
  • Work in partnership - This is not something which is common enough in agriculture. When we started in 2012 we actually were in partnership with a friend. We purchased 300 sheep and each took 150 each to look after.

    We shared a mobile handling system and trailer. Even though it was nearly two hour’s drive between us, we made it work. We used to meet on an industrial estate in Milton Keynes to swap equipment.

    We decided to end the partnership after 18 months as we were each developing our own ideas as we established ourselves as farmers in our local community, but we remain firm friends and strongly agree that we would not have taken the bold step to get started without each other.
  • Be model tenants - From sweeping sheep poo from farm tracks, to picking wool from horse fencing, we have done it all to keep our landlords happy. But it pays off and we have grown from one to 22 sites, mostly based on recommendations from our landlords. We respond as soon as we are called about loose sheep or a broken fence and we move sheep on when we are asked.
  • You have got to be in it to win it - Even if it is just with a few animals. People have seen what we do and hopefully liked it. I do not think we would have had the grazing opportunities we have if we had been knocking on doors and asking for grazing before getting started.
  • Do not underestimate the paperwork, like I did - From accounts, tax and VAT returns, insurance, tags and identification rules recording, flock registration & movement recording and temporary holding numbers, pedigree paperwork, medicine records...the list goes on and this is before we get into the individual animal recording which we wanted to do.
  • Listen to everyone - We have our own ideas but we always listen to others as we do not have the experience they do. We merge the experience advice with the latest science we have learnt and come up with our own way of doing things.
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