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The futures bright for young farmers with a little help (and a plan)

It was a full house for the "Down on the farm: Stepping back, starting up..."  event held by Roythornes Solicitors yesterday (22nd) at Newark Showground.

Julie Robinson, Head of the Roythornes Agriculture team, summed up the key messages from the afternoon: “What’s clear from today’s event is that there’s a bright future for the next generation of farmers. But it needs a plan, the help of expert advisers, and passion.”

Plan to plan

The need to step back and develop a rounded, and researched, business plan was stressed over and again by the panel of experts. James Walton from Brown & Co highlighted the benefits of a SWOT analysis, with an honest appraisal of strengths and weaknesses of potential projects. “It’s important, too, that you do something that interests you. You’re going to stand a much greater chance of success if you’re passionate about what you’re doing and not just chasing the market.”

Budgets might be daunting, but thinking about who they are for helps. That was the message from Andy Guy, a former NFU new entrant of the year and now an independent farm business consultant. “What you put in your plan will depend who it’s for – is it for your bank, for a potential landlord, for body that gives start-up grants?” Mr Guy also encouraged new starters to drill down on the figures by carrying out a sensitivity analysis. “Asking ‘what if?’ is vital – it highlights risks and helps you address them.”

Find yourself a mentor

Start-up finance is undoubtedly a challenge, particularly where you have no track record or assets as security. Chris Shelbourne (Managing Director at Wright Vigar accountants) admitted that there was no easy way round this, but suggested that the presence of an experienced and well-respected mentor could help tip the balance in a new entrant’s favour. He encouraged new entrants to think out of the box on the finance front; although sums on offer are generally small, peer-to-peer lending is gaining some traction and may be worth investigating.

Rents high – aim high!

The high level of rents being tendered for land was raised, with land agents in the room explaining that this was the market at work.

John Charles Jones, first generation Nottinghamshire farmer (and whose Woodborough Park Farm had been the 'model' farm for the new entrant case study), insisted that there was nothing new in the difficulties facing would-be new entrants. "You have to be very, very good - that's what it boils down to. You need to develop a plan and a model that will enable you to put in a competitive bid." He added that his was not a negative message, it was an encouragement for the next generation to aim high.

Retirement, what’s that?

It was generally acknowledged that there is a ‘cultural’ resistance to retirement on the part of farmers, and that the tax system can make planning for succession a minefield. Nevertheless, Roythornes’ Graham Smith gave an upbeat assessment: “With a bit of forward planning, a relatively stress-free and tax-efficient transition between generations is usually achievable.”

Callum Weir, third year agriculture student at Nottingham University, raised the need for a matching service that brings together would-be share farmers and farmers wanting to step back. Others thought the ‘usual’ informal routes worked well.

Take-away “To Do” list

Ben Knowles, an aspiring farmer who has recently completed his agriculture studies at Brackenhurst College, revised his own To Do list as a result of the afternoon. "I know what I'll be doing – working on my business plan for sure!"

For more information about our services please visit our agriculture sector page.

If you would like to find out more, speak to Julie Robinson, Partner and Head of Roythornes Agriculture Team on 01775 842618 or email julierobinson@roythornes.co.uk