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.

About the tenants

The tenants came from a range of agricultural backgrounds immediately before taking on their tenancy, including farm management, self-employed stockperson and agri-consultancy. Of the eight tenants interviewed half were under 30 years of age when they started their tenancies, two were between 31 and 40 whilst one was between 41 and 50. Five of the interviewees took on their tenancy with a spouse whilst three took it on alone. Half (4) of the interviewees had applied for other tenancies prior to their successful starter farm application, demonstrating the initiative indeed filled a gap. On average the interviewees had applied for four tenancies with some looking at many more than this.

All the interviewees had experience working on farms and whilst half were raised on family farms gaining experience through working on them, none of them had a family farm business to join / take over. Combined with working and running their starter farm, at least one tenant/partner on each farm also worked in a job related to agriculture to provide an additional income to that generated by the farm. In many cases this was stated as being "essential" off-farm income to support the household. Five of the eight interviewees had previously been engaged in agricultural contracting activities, and all but one had taken on seasonal grazings in the past – demonstrating common first steps on the 'agriculture ladder'. Half of the tenants still utilised seasonal grazings and some had developed cooperative relationships with their neighbours - providing labour for each other in busy times.

Changing family units

Many tenants' family circumstances had changed since the start of their tenancy, with many getting married or having children. The benefits to family life of securing a tenancy compared to their existing grass lets was summed up by one tenant: "it was easier than seasonal grazing, as [it's] in one place [seasonal grazings were geographically dispersed]…the house was near".

Initial motivation to take on starter farm

The main motivations given by interviewees to take on a starter farm tenancy were: (i) to run a farm business; (ii) wanting to prove themselves – seeing the opportunity for progression, and (iii) wanting to build a business and have security. Many alluded to, or directly commented that, they felt the starter farm was "a big opportunity" for them and their families.

Specifically, the tenants were asked to rate from 0 to 10 (where 0 = not important and 10 = extremely important) specific motivations for taking on their starter tenancy and whether their expectations had been met. Figure 2 shows the average score for motivations and

Figure 3 shows whether their initial expectations had been met on these issues. The results show that:

  • Building capital was considered the most important motivation for taking on the starter farm with all interviewees scooring 8 and above, with 5 of the group scoring its importance as a 10. Seven interviewees felt that their expectations regarding capital had been met, whilst one was unsure.
  • All interviewees said that a stepping stone into another tenancy was important with all scoring this question as 8 or above. Two said their expectations had been met but 5 didn't think their expectations had been met would be met, with most of them unsure that they would achieve the goal of another tenancy in the next 5 years.
  • All interviewees, except one, rated working for yourself as an important motivation (five scored 10 – 'extremely important'). All of those that said this was important felt that their ambitions had been achieved. One interviewee felt that self-employment was not a particularly strong motivation for taking on the starter farm (score of 3) but reported that they were already working for themselves.
  • All tenants scored to develop a livelihood as five or above with three tenants saying it was "extremely important" (10). Seven tenants said that their expectations had been achieved with one reporting that their expectations had not been achieved and they didn't expect it to be met within the next 5 years, some of which was put down to the challenges of farming.
  • Answers varied for how important a motivation gaining experience was to with three scoring it a "10" and the remainder ranging from 5-8. All that answered said their expectations had been met.
  • Farming lifestyle as a motivation had a varied response (ranging from 4-10 in importance). Some felt that they already had a farming lifestyle through their previous jobs or through their seasonal grazings. Everyone's expectations had been met.
  • Using the starter farm as a stepping stone into farm ownership was considered extremely important (10) for three interviewees gave a scores of 5 or 10 (extremely important) for stepping stone into farm ownership – with none of them thinking that ambition will be met within the next 5 years. One person attached low importance to this motivation (1) and they were the only person whose expectations had been met. Those that commented on this question stated, or alluded, that buying a farm would not be realistic since high farmland prices mean it is unaffordable.
  • A wide range of scores were attached to the importance of the starter farm as a base for another business. Two rated this as not important (0), whilst three interviewees rated it a 10. The five tenants that answered this question felt that their expectations had been met.
Figure 2 Importance of specific motivations for taking on starter tenancies
Figure 2, a graph chart showing the importance of specific motivations for taking on starter tenancies, with the lead example to build capital.
Figure 3 Whether expectations on initial starter farm motivations had been met
Figure 3, a bar chart on the responses received whether expectations on the initial starter farm motivations had been met.


When asked "overall, has the starter farm met your expectations?" six respondents said "yes" and "two" said "no". When asked what expectations haven't been met responses included:

  • "Probably hasn't met our expectations, but it's achieved things that we didn't expect, while it's missed on some things completely, by a ballpark. It has given us things that we didn't expect at the same time, so it we have we achieved things that we didn't expect. Have we achieved what we wanted to achieve, probably not."
  • "Some of the issues that we had going along have maybe stopped the development, I would …say we… stagnated".



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