In for a pound

BBC Scotland's rural affairs correspondent Ken Rundle examines why a competition win returned young farmers to the limelight.

"A chance in a lifetime" is how Scotland’s newest farmer described winning a farm tenancy for £1 a year. At 23 years of age John Kerr beat scores of others to win the 65 hectare Newen Farm, Borgue, near Kirkcudbright.

The first step

John Kerr , tenant farmer

The tenancy was the prize in a national competition to help young people onto the first rung of the "farming ladder".

Launched in the spring by the Scottish Farmer Magazine, the competition required entrants to submit business plans. The plans were then examined by an expert panel. The competition organisers were seeking a genuine new entrant to farming, rather than someone from a farming family. Their unanimous choice was John Kerr, a farm worker's son, who has five years in which to become established.

John Kerr's farm currently has 400 ewes run on an easy-care system which gives him time to earn extra cash by working on neighbouring farms. As part of the deal he has gained extra summer grazing, new fencing and is having a house built. His landlords, Little Cumbrae Estates, could charge £18,000 a year for these assets.

Traditional tenancies

Like many others, the Galloway youngster had despaired ever having his own place. Farmland is expensive, even the 65 hectares at Borgue could have cost £380,000. Rented farms still require substantial working capital to stock and run them, even if they are available.

Newen Farm

Modern landlords have become increasingly wary of letting farms, mainly because the value of land with a sitting tenant is lower, and because traditional tenancies offer security for three generations. In an effort to release land the Scottish Executive created new, short term, renewable tenancies of five and fifteen years.

These shorter tenancies got off to a stuttering start. Statements during the Scottish Parliament debate over a law giving crofting tenants the right to buy suggested farm tenants should be treated equally. Despite Ministers vigorous denials that this might happen many landlords remain suspicious and there have been few tenancy agreements.

Political moves

Newen Farm

The latest attempt to break this log-jam is through the Tenant Farming Forum. It represents all sides of the sector and is about to launch a wide ranging enquiry.

Cabinet Secretary Richard Lochead has requested their recommendations as to the way ahead, to be prepared by the end of the year. It will help him decide how best to use the £10m he has already promised to help new entrants into farming.

It is clear that the old "farming ladder" has virtually disappeared. Taxation and subsidy laws have driven new thinking on letting farms. The economic drive for larger farms has been matched by the value which separated farm houses have on the property market. A range of innovative systems such as contract farming have evolved with shorter term lets giving landlords more security.

At such a young age, John Kerr is lucky to win the chance to make a new life as a farmer. What is not so certain is exactly where the future of farming lies for such new entrants.

Page first published on Thursday 4th October 2007
Page last updated on Tuesday 17th June 2008

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