"I gained a lot of confidence when I did the programme - and it’s nice to be able to give back as a mentor now."
An overview from the Farmer Network:
It is often the case in small farming businesses that one or more member of the farming family will need to bring in an external income, with the future viability of family farms dependent on effective succession planning. We see the next generation forced to look for additional income or work elsewhere in the longer ‘medium’ term.
The young people on this programme have farming ambition. We meet many who want to carry on the family tenancy or have stock and a place of their own in the future. Mark Curr had that goal and was on the first programme in 2011.
As a past county YFC Chairman he has strong roots in the community. He is certainly not afraid of hard work and we had every confidence that he would succeed with his plans with some support. Mark has stayed in touch with the Farmer Network ever since and is now ‘giving back as a mentor on the programme.
Here's what Mark had to say:
In the beginning: Mark was a keen young farmer and heard about the business support programme via a YFC flier and through the Farmer Network newsletter. He wanted to build up his own farming collateral to give him a better farming chance in the future.
How the programme helped:
"It gave me the opportunity to follow my ambition to farm – it was a very motivating experience."
Explore enterprise course – the business basics: There were three workshops and they were very good – I learned more about bookkeeping and farm management accounting – there’s a lot more to having an agricultural enterprise and really understanding the business and accounting elements are crucial.
Business Advisors: My Business Advisor was Martin Coates and he was a great help - especially in the run up to applying for the loan, helping me work out my ideas and putting the business plan together. It gives you an external perspective on your plans – a critical eye on what you are doing, with your best interest at heart.
The Training Grant: I used the grant to take my trailer test – when you’re staring out it’s a big expense and costs £100’s so that help was very welcome. I also used the grant to go towards buying the E.I.D. equipment I needed – that was part grant and part loan.
Being able to access the grant meant I had more saving to go towards buying the stock I needed, it was much appreciated.
The mentoring: I had some great advice and support from my mentor Stephen Lord, and it helped me advance my business ideas. It really was an important part of the programme because it’s good to bounce things off like-minded people that are not related to you. It’s your business, and with it comes the responsibility of making your own decisions (and mistakes), so having someone else in your corner outside the family is very helpful.
The Loan: I used the loan to buy some of my own sheep - some Swaledale ewes and some Blue Faced Leicester ewes and tups. I also invested in an Electronic Identification (EID) scanner.
From a flier I received at a YFC meeting, I was able to follow my ambitions to grow my own farming collateral and to have my own farming enterprise. The aim was to eventually take over from Dad when he retired at some point in the distant future or find a farm tenancy of my own.
I used part of the load to buy sheep with the intention of improving my flock over time. As well as buying sheep, I wanted to buy an E.I.D. scanner. This was important equipment because not only would it give me extra income from scanning other farmers sheep, but it also meant I could performance record my flock to constantly improve the stock I have – in turn, , making them as profitable as possible. The loan (and grant) helped me do this.
The programme is not just about supporting people who want to farm, it also supports people who want to provide agricultural services. For me, the chance to provide the E.I.D. scanning service gave me the additional income I needed, but there were others on the programmes who were exploring agricultural services like engineering, sheering, foot trimming, contracting etc.
I followed my initial ideas in my business plan and had great help through the programme to turn it from a plan on paper, right through the loan application (and interview), to buying my stock and getting on with the job.
Throughout the process the advisor and mentor were on hand when needed and I gained confidence at every step of the way.
As time marched on, I had the opportunity to go into partnership with Dad. I could do that because I was able to bring equity into the business with my sheep. I did have to sell some, because I also had the chance to build a home on our farm for my family too.
Becoming a partner in the family business has been great - and I still have Stephen as unofficial mentor keeping an eye on what I’m doing – 2 years support was part of the programme, but I suspect he’ll always be watching what I’m doing and keeping an eye on me.
There is great value in being a Mentor and I was inspired to become a mentor for others coming through the programme. I feel I’ve been able to ‘pay it back,’ mentoring Georgia Hunter when she took part in the programme in 2016.
Overcoming obstacles: One of the difficulties was securing funding outside of the programme loan facility to buy more stock, but, as for many people starting out, the main obstacle was getting land to rent. I put in for tenancies and land to rent but it was a case of competing against established farmers and that was hard. It meant we were always on short term rented land which makes establishing and developing a business very hard. The other difficulty was securing funding (outside of the programmes loan) to invest in stock.
Once I became a partner in the farm, we faced new obstacles when we wanted to build our own home on the farm. Getting planning permission was a real battle. Thankfully I live in a supportive community and in the end I was able to proceed. It’s important that young people can stay in the area they work – it’s something that should not have been so hard to achieve.
What advice would we give to new entrants?
- Enjoy the workshops - even if you learn just one little thing it WILL make a huge difference
- Listen to the advisors - they are experienced and will have good advice – they can look at your business in a slightly different way to you.
- It’s a real boost of confidence - even if you don’t take your original idea forward.
- Don’t be surprised if your mentor keeps a watching eye after the project!