Evaluation foreword by Henry Graham
As chair of the Farming Opportunities for New Entrants (FONE) group, I am delighted to be given the opportunity to offer a reflection and to celebrate work achieved at the evaluation stage of the Starter Farm Programme. Supporting new entrants into the sector is vital for the sustainability of the industry, and this programme has offered ambitious young people the opportunity to get the essential experience they need to take the first step on the farming ladder. There has been considerable positive narrative around the programme and the value it has brought. It was therefore important to get an analysis of the tenants' perceptions of the initiative.
By way of background, it has been over ten years since I was first involved in the Starter Farm Programme on the then Forest Enterprise Scotland's (FES) National Estate. The Starter Farm Programme was part of the Repositioning Programme and this was designed to increase the social, economic, and environmental benefits from the large estate. Land was acquired to contribute to tree planting targets, but this also provided benefits for new entrants to agriculture.
I was pleased to be involved in the selection process for the nine starter unit tenants geographically located from Caithness in the north to Dumfriesshire in the south. The Scottish Government's Rural Payment and Inspections Division (RPID) also joined the programme with a Starter Unit near Inverness. The leases for the farms were 10 year Limited Duration Tenancies which, at that time, were considered longer than what was usually offered. Also, the farms were set up as part-time units because first-time new entrants rarely have the capital necessary to run full-time units.
From the selection process, we identified that most of the successful applicants had previously taken on some seasonal grazing. Building on this knowledge, the Farming Opportunities for New Entrants (FONE) group was created in 2016 to identify smaller areas of publicly owned land that could be offered on longer term leases. Forestry and Land Scotland; Scottish Water; Crown Estate Scotland; and East Lothian and Highland Councils all offered opportunities using a specific agreed selection process. To date, nearly 7,500 hectares of publicly owned land have been advertised, with over 82 new entrants taking up the opportunities offered. I am grateful to all FONE members for their continued efforts to make public land available and ongoing engagement as a group.
Not only has the Starter Farm Programme offered essential farming business experience for ten new entrant tenants, it has driven thinking into further new entrant focused policy. This is reflected in the work being undertaken through FONE. Additionally, the programme and this evaluation have given us the opportunity to reflect on both the successes and lessons to be learned, including foresight into where further focus should be placed to support new entrants into the sector.
My thanks go to the tenants, the landlords, and everyone involved in the programme over the years. A special thanks to Lorna Pate and Steven Thomson from Scotland's Rural College (SRUC) for obtaining the information and producing this report.
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