"The programme has really boosted my confidence in agriculture and pushed me forward, making me more mature and opened my eyes in agriculture.
If anyone is considering taking a new opportunity - I'd say go for it, even without the loan it is a great opportunity for young farmers to start their own business."
An overview from the Farmer Network:
Georgia joined the programme in 2016 when she was just 18. She was working on her family farm at Piper Hole, Coronation Meadow, Ravenstonedale where they milked goats and sold the milk. Georgia came to us with an idea to rear the male goats for meat, selling to pubs and restaurants and local farm shops.
Whilst she was very young, she really wanted to develop a business strand that was her own. And as you will read, she grew enough confidence to review her plans and take the business in a slightly different direction.
Here's what Georgia had to say:
In the beginning: I decided I wanted to start a goat enterprise when I left school - I always knew I wanted to be in the agriculture industry. We were milking goats, but I wanted to do something more productive with the billies and something I could develop myself as a separate enterprise.
I found out about the programme at Agri Expo, so I applied with the idea of developing meat from the billies.
How the programme helped:
"I've grown in confidence and knowledge which helped me fine tune what I was doing to become more commercially viable."
Explore enterprise course - the business basics: You can’t underestimate the value of understanding basic books and accounting. You do learn about margins and profitability – farming is a business and accounting is very real. It became key to helping redefine my plans further down the line.
Business Advisors: Everley Buckley was my Business Advisor and he helped me pull my ideas together and create a sensible business plan that in turn, helped me get a loan. The business plan doesn’t always go to plan, even at the developmental stage. I’ve not got a head for maths so Everley was great at explaining the ‘whys and hows’ so I now understand it more.
The Will It Work Grant: I used the grant to research market strategies for the goat meat, inviting locals to a pub to try the goat meat, cooked in many ways. They complete a survey to feedback how they felt about the product. It gave me valuable insight and confidence to push the meat.
The Training Grant: This enabled me to do the courses I needed to run a meat business - food hygiene and butchery.
The mentoring: I have been lucky to have a great mentor that is just down the road. Mark Curr was on the first programme in 2011 and has had plenty of experience developing a business. It’s good to have someone young that you can talk to and whilst the mentoring was technically for two years, Mark is always at the end of a phone or I can pop and chat to him – that’s been a great boost. He's willing to push the younger generation with new ideas - further than say, your Grandad would.
The Loan: At the age of 18 it was very hard to get any of the banks to take me seriously, but with support from my advisor I had success with the loan from the Princes Trust and now have Lloyds Bank who were willing to work with me too. I used the loan money to get set up. I had to buy billy kids and needed to buy equipment for the butchery, market stall and for developing the website.
As the farm couldn’t keep us all I had the option to look for work as an income or create a new income stream at home. In the end I did both. I worked in a pub and worked at home and I developed a new income stream at the same time.
It was Kate Gascoyne, the project co-ordinator at the Farmer network who first explained how the programme worked. I was at Agri Expo and it sounded like I had nothing to lose by exploring things.
All the elements of the programme were beneficial but having the grant to test my market was really useful. It helped me understand the meat cuts that would sell well and understand what pubs and restaurants would demand.
I launched Capra Meats, selling this niche product at monthly farmers markets in Orton, Brough and Penrith and at Kirkby Stephen each week – sharing the stall with Mum and Dad who sell dairy products from the goat herd - cost efficiencies! Capra meat also goes into restaurants and shops.
Having Mark Curr as a mentor was great - having someone on hand gave me confidence and when I needed to adapt my business plan, my advisor and mentor helped me work it through. Things change as prices and markets and customers develop and you get new ideas. Having someone to discuss things with outside my immediate family was great.
The value of understanding margins and profitability help give you a head for business and I’m now expanding my customer base and constantly refining costs and margins too.
Originally I reared, butchered and sold meat from our own billies, but along the way you must adapt to changing prices and markets. We didn’t have enough billies on the farm to meet demand, so I started sourcing goats from other producers. It has given me a lot more flexibility and is a more cost-effective way to develop the business.
Depending on what is available to buy from our own farm, I can now confidently source meat from other producers. I look after the goats and send them for slaughter when they’re ready and demand is there. They are then sent to a local butchery for processing. I’ve been able to work with the butchers to learn the craft myself – and as time goes by, it will be another string to my bow, making me even more independent.
Over time you build up a network and this has been very helpful. Cumbria is a very well-connected place - and the Farmer Network is a good example of how you can grow connections with the people that can help and inspire you.
Overcoming obstacles: I joined the programme when I had just left school. At only 18 it was a steep learning curve. The initial selection process for the programme was tough – I think they wanted to make sure I was serious about what I wanted to do – which is a good thing, but hard at the time.
And when you take out a loan, there is a real sense of responsibility to pay it back, but I’ve had so much support from my family and my mentor - having people who believe you can do it is one step closer to achieving it too.
What advice would we give to new entrants?
- Just go for it
- You don’t have to be from a farming family to give it a go.
- Don’t be afraid to explore different ideas and make the most of the support on offer
- You have ongoing support
- Know it’s hard work and when it’s all your responsibility it’s tough – but rewarding.