One young aspiring farmer has just been given a golden ticket into farming. Emily Scaife finds out more.
It’s the kind of opportunity most passionate aspiring farmers probably dream about when their head hits the pillow at night – being handed the keys to a 904-hectare (2,234-acre) farm.
Like many others trying to start in the industry, 28-year-old Jonathan Grayshon had come to terms with the possibility it might never happen and he would have to be content managing a farm for someone else.
But then, thanks to Yorkshire Water, the opportunity of a lifetime landed on his doorstep. Well, five miles away to be exact.
From a farming background, Jonathan had no clear route into farming, with his family owning no land of their own.
“I had the background and experience and we had farmed ourselves, but if I wanted land I would have take it on myself,” he says.
“All I ever wanted to do was farm but the difficulty was working out how to go about it.”
Not one to let the small matter of land hold him back, he took on a few Texel sheep when he entered secondary school.
“I had some really tiny parcels of land – usually the really steep bits no-one else wanted.”
But he is the first to admit it was more of a hobby than a career.
“It didn’t really stack up – I was only treading water and I wasn’t making a profit,” he explains.
So, in a bid to get as much experience as possible, he took on a number of vastly different roles after graduating from Bishop Burton College with a degree in agriculture.
These included working at Askham Bryan College, dabbling in consultancy for organisations including SRUC and then finally, for the past two years, running a large arable unit and anaerobic digester in Lincolnshire.
But despite climbing the ladder and gaining a wealth of experience, he always hoped to move back home and farm near Nidderdale.
Little did he know the opportunity would come round as quickly as it did, with Humberstone Bank Farm becoming available after being managed by the same farming family for 80 years.
Owned by Yorkshire Water, the organisation set about finding the right person to take over the picturesque site.
“Yorkshire Water were looking for someone a little bit different, who wanted to come along and run as many sheep as they could,” he says.
“They wanted someone a bit more open-minded who wanted to look at other aspects.”
Despite never believing he would be chosen, Jonathan set about putting together the best application he could.
“I didn’t think I stood a chance but I gave it my all – otherwise I would have driven past it every day, knowing I hadn’t really bothered, and be left wondering, what if?”
Yorkshire Water were determined to find exactly the right fit for their farm and put applicants through their paces right from the start.
The viewing day alone could have put many off, after a sudden snowfall, but a bit of bad weather was not going to stand in the way between Jonathan and Humberstone Bank Farm.
“It was horrible weather on the day – we weren’t even sure we would be able to get there,” he says.
“I couldn’t see a lot of the land because it was covered in snow.”
But this wasn’t the hardest part. The detailed application focused more on the entrant’s skills than financial details.
“They looked more at what you could do and how you could deliver it to support the farm’s objectives.”
Proposals had to be submitted in early April – right in the middle of lambing – but Jonathan persisted and put an enormous amount of work in, submitting an entry which was more than 40 pages long.
Several interviews and presentations later, Jonathan finally signed the tenancy on September 19 at Nidderdale Show.
“Despite working away from home during my career I have always wanted to be based near my roots and family with my own farm.”
“This dream has now become a reality and I am incredibly excited about being able to wake up and go straight to the fields and buildings to see my stock.”
Humberstone Bank Farm
At the heart of Jonathan’s plans sits his desire to run a traditional hill flock and introduce some native cattle breeds to graze the land.
“The slight twist is I’m looking to do quite a bit of off-wintering and although I will have a traditional Swaledale flock I will also have a few half-bred ewes as well and gear it up to fat lamb production rather than breeding stock production.
“I will be getting a bit more commercial lamb production than a traditional hill farm, which means over winter I can perhaps push the ewes a little more and bring lambs off, either wintering them on lower ground or bringing them inside.”
This plan fits with Yorkshire Water’s thinking, as they are keen to safeguard the moors over winter and would prefer to go against the traditional system of keeping the sheep outside for a long time.
“It also suits the shooting rights owner, as they don’t want the heather being damaged over winter,” adds Jonathan.
“It’s a win win – it fits the farm, it suits Yorkshire Water and what’s going on with the shooting rights, and it fits with me, my experience and what I was looking to do.”
A key aspect of Yorkshire Water’s search was finding someone who would buy into their ‘Beyond Nature’ vision to make Humberstone a leading farm for the future. This ethos requires the new tenant to have the skills and passion to protect wildlife biodiversity, water quality, carbon storage and grouse shooting, while also delivering with traditional livestock farming practices.
A key element of the Beyond Nature ethos will be protecting blanket bog by restoring areas of sphagnum moss, which absorbs and slows down rain water runoff to act as a natural flood barrier.
An array of bird wildlife also lives on the land which must also be protected, including upland birds of prey, red grouse and smaller birds, such as golden plover and redstarts.
Jonathan will work closely with other stakeholders and partners to deliver the Beyond Nature vision. He is keen to encourage research at Humberstone and eventually hopes it will become a model for other farms.
Jonathan is a farmer first and foremost, but he is keen to support biodiversity in any way he can.
“I wouldn’t be able to tell you every species of wildlife, but I appreciate where it fits in. All farmers do – everyone wants to see wildlife flourishing alongside their farm.”
Jonathan’s tenancy officially begins today and he has big plans for the site, including turning a cottage into a holiday home.
But whatever he achieves, he knows he was lucky to secure his dream farm as he knows only too well how hard it is for new entrants to get their foot on the agricultural ladder.
“There is no hard and fast answer for how you can get into farming. I tried for a long time and you’ve just got to be persistent,” he says.
“I put in for pretty much every farm which came up in the local area and beyond – I looked for every opportunity. You’ve got to be prepared to take a knock back, be persistent and try to be strategic. Look at the bigger picture – get as much experience as you can.
“Don’t be afraid to take a risk and do something out of your comfort zone.”