Starter farm initiative - tenant insights: review

This report is an evaluation from the perspective of the tenants of the starter farm initiative of 9 starter farms which were made available from 2012 for a period of 10 years.

Improvements to the Initiative

What would the tenants do differently

When asked what they would do differently some said they wouldn't change anything – implying that they are content with the opportunity that the initiative has afforded them. Others suggested they would change how they farmed for example "investing more in breeding stock rather than trading" or tweaking their crop or stock management choices. Others suggested that in hindsight they would "build capital other than trying to farm – having a deposit".

Throughout the interviews some interviewees suggested in hindsight having a mentor would be something they would do differently. For example, on offered: "I think it would have been nice if you maybe had an appointed mentor. "XY" was great...he would always touch base with us, he would sit down with us around the table".

One tenant pointed to the financial and emotional challenges of becoming a new entrant and was uncertain if they would do it again in hindsight: "Wouldn't do it probably… realistically, we've had some really good times and here and we've had some great successes and we've had a hell of a lot of bad times and a kicking in the process. That's all part of the learning curve and that's how you learn…It's been a pretty big financial and emotional drain on me."

Suggested improvements to starter tenancies

When asked how starter tenancies could be improved six key areas for improvement were identified by the tenants (unprompted):

(i) Having places for tenants to move on to.

(ii) Longer tenancy durations.

(iii) Larger farm availability.

(iv) Making sure tenants can access support payments.

(v) Openness, and transparency about the opportunities at the end of tenancy.

(vi) More starter tenancies available.

Many were disappointed by the lack of tenancies on the market currently and in the past few years, resulting in very few opportunities for them to uptake and mov-on from the starter farm. One offered that there is "nowhere to go after tenancies… the private sector hasn't stepped up the table and said here is the 400 acre tenancy [for the next step on the ladder]." Some felt that more could have been done to encourage land owners to take-on the 'starter farmers' after their tenancies were finished. One tenant commented that "They effectively lined us up to be the next generation of tenants. I think that that was quite bad, but maybe they were maybe doing this in the background and we didn't know…they could have gone to see the Crown (estates) or Buccleuch (estates) and said, right, this is this is who we think are our top two or three tenants and have you got any tenancies coming up? …will you help push them?. But I suspect that didn't happen."

Some tenants felt that a longer tenancy would have been beneficial and suggestions ranged from 15-25 years and this sentiment explains feelings around the duration of the starter farm tenancies: "10 years isn't a long time to find your feet, [dealing with] poor weather, skeletons in closet that weren't in business plan appear." Larger farms were also a suggested improvement. Some felt that if they had known that there could be opportunities to purchase the farm or continue in the farm as a tenant they may have approached things differently: "We would have farmed differently if we had realised the opportunities at the end [potential to buy the farm or continue renting]."This sentiment is backed up by many comments on making tenant improvements as the tenancy termination date came closer on the horizon. For example: "We have got an end date in 202X and we have to be very careful that we don't put too much [money] into the farm. We would love to redo and update the sheds and other things on the farm. You are not encouraged if in 202X someone [else] will get the benefit of that".

Suggested improvements to Government support for starter farms

Interviewees suggested that the Scottish Government should: (i) provide greater clarity about the direction of new entrant policies (ii) review agriculture/tenancy legislation; (iii) seek to provide opportunities after for the next rung on the farming ladder after the tenancies end by encouraging others to provide new entrants opportunities; (iv) a review of new entrant funding and rigid eligibility criteria.

Some tenants did not receive support payments that they thought they may have been eligible for. For example some fell foul of rigid EU 'new entrant' definitions that made them ineligible for young/new entrant grants and loans as. Ineligibility occurred as they already had a business reference number "because we had been sort of like technically farming, even though it at that point it was a hobby. So I think that's sort of definition cost us £90K, it would have made life a lot easier". Further many did not have access to Single Farm Payment (SFP) / Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) support at the start of their tenancy. One commented that the Scottish Government "have to make sure these people can get BPS (Basic Payment Scheme). Make sure they have access to things other farmers have access to. In our most important year we didn't have single farm payment."

Government backed loans were suggested by a few as a way that Government could further support new entrants and starter farms. One comment reflected that "funding is never the easiest to get when you're a tenant farmer. The banks don't look at you favourably... there need to be some financial backing or support for the banks…. If they can't make land available guarantor funding would help."

Reviewing agricultural/land use policies

Throughout the course of the interviews all tenants raised the challenges that the current land use and agricultural tenure legislation had on their abilities to secure another tenancy, with one referring to it as "the elephant in the room". Tenants collectively felt that reviewing the current policies would enhance opportunities available to them, and others within the agricultural sector. Policies that were specifically discussed as needing to be reviewed included: (i) the absolute right to buy; (ii) tree planting; (iii) tenancy assignation; and (iii) new entrant policies.



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