As we approach the end of another year who would have thought that Covid19 would still be having such an impact on our lives. The uncertainty caused for individuals and businesses alike is extreme and the impact that has on mental health cannot be underestimated.
Farming and crofting are not immune from that uncertainty even although the daily routine of tending to crops and animals goes on. At times like this it can be really difficult to think about the future, but it is something we should all try and do because even in more “normal” times no one knows what lies around the corner. Having said that it has been encouraging in the last three months that Scottish Land Matching Service (SLMS) has been contacted by more people just at the early stage of planning for the future and seeking some independent advice. It is good to talk.
SLMS was set up to try and address the shortage of opportunities for new entrants and those young people trying to develop their business by matching them up with someone at the other end of their farming / crofting career who was looking to take a step back from day to day. That lack of opportunities was largely down to two factors:
- difficulty in accessing land
- difficulty in accessing capital
With the price of land on a seemingly steep rise then (a) becomes even more difficult for any aspiring new entrant / developing business and makes (b) almost impossible as the figures against land at extreme values simply don’t add up.
A major factor in the rise in land price must be down to what could be termed as “carbon speculation” as non-land-based businesses seek to offset their own carbon footprint by purchasing land largely for planting trees. We are keen to speak to businesses who are purchasing land for this purpose as the likelihood of 100% planting coverage is very unlikely and there must be options to create opportunities for new entrants on the unplanted land within that mix.
With restrictions on movement having eased I have had the opportunity to visit two businesses that SLMS helped through the process of setting up a joint venture.
At the end of August, I had the opportunity to visit a small farm in Renfrewshire where I helped set up a joint venture agreement between the established farmer and someone who was looking for the opportunity to develop his small sheep enterprise.
I had first met with both parties in July 2020 and from there drew up a simple joint venture agreement for their consideration. That progressed and they have been up and running for around a year when I went back this year. It was interesting to hear their reflections on that first year and it was really clear that through effective and constant communication they have established a strong and trusting working relationship. I wish them well for the future.
Last Friday Allan and I supported Cabinet Secretary Mairi Gougeon on a visit to Rottal Estate in the Angus Glens near Kirriemuir courtesy of owner Dee Ward. SLMS assisted Dee in setting up a joint venture with Adrien Drocourt to develop an organic market garden at Rottal. The joint venture has been running since May and the quality and variety of vegetables being grown at 800ft up the Angus Glens is a real credit to the skills and enthusiasm that Adrien has brought to the table. That compliments well with Dee providing land and infrastructure as well as marketing and commercial know how. Cab Sec, Allan and I certainly enjoyed tasting some of the more unusual vegetables!
In between these visits Allan and I met up with Douglas Bell in his new role as managing Director of the Scottish Tenant Farmers Association (STFA). Really useful discussion on how to find opportunities for those looking to move forward from short term seasonal lets into something with a little more security that would allow better planning for development of their business. Joint ventures can play a part in delivering these opportunities. More broadly we agreed that if the opportunity arose for me to speak to further STFA meetings then I would be happy to do so to get the SLMS message of different ways of doing things out to a wider audience.
One of the key organisations operating in the rural economy are the Livestock Markets, not only as places to do business but importantly as places where farmers, crofters and their associated communities can socialise. With all the restrictions we have faced over the last eighteen months, perhaps one of the most difficult has been that lack of opportunity for social interaction at markets for farmers and crofters. That is so important in what has become an increasingly isolated occupation.
I was pleased, therefore, to catch up face to face earlier this month with Neil Wilson, Executive Director of The Institute of Auctioneers and Appraisers in Scotland (IAAS). Since taking on the role in January 2020, Neil has used his considerable experience to forge greater links with other stakeholders throughout the agricultural industry. Our catch up, therefore, was a great opportunity to discuss where we can collaborate to help identify opportunities and find solutions for those thinking about succession and the future. We know that these types of discussions are never easy to initiate as people are often nervous to talk about the future, but with the right support, they can be fruitful and positive for everyone.
Markets and their staff have a strong and trusted one to one relationship with their customers and, as such will be able to identify changes and trends at a very early stage. Neil and I agreed that where someone would like to have a confidential discussion about succession or the potential for joint ventures, then he would encourage his members to signpost the Land Matching Service as a free source of facilitation and advice.
I am delighted that IAAS will join the existing list of organisations supporting The Scottish Land Matching Service and look forward to working with them going forward.
The old saying that you never know what is around the corner is so very true for all of us.
As reported previously I had to take some time out from February to deal with a health issue. Thankfully things have gone well, and I am now back in harness with SLMS.
I want to take this opportunity to thank Allan Young for so ably stepping in to keep the Service going over my period of absence – it is very much appreciated. Allan and I are continuing to work together over the next while as we evaluate the ongoing demand and the Service that we provide.
Enquiries have continued to come in and there are a number of cases at a stage where discussions are likely to lead to some form of joint venture. As I have said before these things don’t happen overnight and it is important that time is given to finding the right match and building the trusting relationship.
At the start of the month Allan and I along with Henry Graham took part in a very useful discussion organized by the Soil Association and involving our counterparts in Ireland, Northern Ireland, Wales and England. Good to share and compare and find that many of the issues we face are all very similar.
But back to the start and not knowing what is around the corner. If you haven’t thought about the future and what succession might look like, then it is never too early to start to have the discussion. I know that it can be difficult but that is where SLMS can help facilitate – we are very happy to help.