2014-02-27  

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Importance of Support for New Entrants Emphasized at Farmer Gathering

Scottish Cabinet Secretary Richard Lochhead was one of many who emphasized the need to support new farmers at the New Entrants to Farming Gathering held at Murrayfield on Wednesday 26th February.

The event was part of a Scottish Government programme, run by Scotland’s Rural College, which aims to support newcomers to the agricultural sector.

Sudent working with Sheep

Mr Lochhead, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment, opened the event, noting that one of his first acts back in 2007 was to make sure the Scottish Rural Development Programme (SRDP) supported new entrants.

He said: “I have always taken a close interest in new entrants and the issues they face. I want the government, our partners, and new entrants to think creatively about how we can help you in the years ahead… It is really important the Scottish Government does all it can to encourage and help you.”

The average age of a farmer is now 58, and many do not have a successor in place. As Scotland’s farmers have aged, so the importance of new entrants has grown. However, many can be put off by the difficulties they face trying to break into the sector.

“The lack of land for new entrants is a big issue, as well as capital, and of course the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy.” Doug Bell, Senior Consultant with SAC Consulting, a Division of SRUC, explained.

Doug is running the New Entrants Programme on behalf of the Scottish Government and hopes this event will help identify what form of support new entrants really need:

“We’re delighted with the turn out we’ve had; almost 150 people, they represent the future of Scottish agriculture. Now we want to know what it is they want: Is it workshops on writing business plans, or more practical information on animal care that would best help these farmers? We want to be sure as we start planning future events that we are offering the right type of support.”

One of the delegates, Mark Scott, a 27-year-old farmer working on his family beef and sheep unit in Berwickshire, believes that explanations of the rules and regulations are incredibly helpful for many new entrants.

He said: “This programme could help explain some of the rules and regulations around farming, in an informal way, so they are easy to understand.”

Another of the reasons Mark attended the event was to get some advice around succession planning, and how best his family could take that forward. Succession planning can be a tricky issue for families to negotiate, Nanda van Vliet, 27 and her partner Dom Marsh, 27, also feel they need support with delicate negotiations, although not with family. The couple are currently farming a mix of field grown fruit and vegetables in Fife, however change is afoot:

“We have two options at the moment.” Nanda explained. “We could take over the farm we are currently working on, or we could take on a new tenancy through a new farmer scheme… Both paths require some difficult negotiations and it would be helpful in such situations to have an experienced, neutral mediator to guide us.”

These stories, the real-life problems experienced by new entrants today, will help Doug and his colleagues map out the new entrants programme in the coming months.

Delegates at the event also heard about the Government’s Agricultural Holdings Review presently underway, discovered more about the French approach to new farmers and, of course, heard the inspirational stories from others who have successfully moved from new entrant to established farmer.

“I have already been inspired today,” Nanda said. “We sometime ask for advice elsewhere and hear a lot of negative things about our options but maybe we should just go for it. It’s also good to hear that the government is supportive, it’s good to hear there is money available to help, and also to get to have a say on how that money is spent.”

SRUC

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