Looking for a complete change of direction? After hours chained to a desk punctured by the occasional dreary meeting, many of us have toyed with the idea of branching out into something a little different. Tough yet potentially rewarding, agriculture could just be the perfect arena to put your entrepreneurial skills to good use.
Is moving into farming a viable opportunity or a mere pipe dream? We take a look.
The lifestyle: myth v reality
The great outdoors and the romantic view of country living continue to have a special place in the Great British imagination. There’s even some evidence to back up the notion that living in the country is good for us. ONS data looking at personal well being suggests people living in rural areas tend to be ‘happier’ than the national average, while life expectancy data suggests living in the country could add as much as two extra years to the average lifespan.
That’s not to say that becoming a farmer is a guaranteed route to a stress-free life. On the contrary, farmers typically have to deal with the twin problems of extremely long hours and a lack of flexibility: meaning the option of getting away from it all at short notice is not on the cards for the typical smallholder. Self-employed entrepreneurs generally aren’t afraid of hard work and are likely to be used to fluctuating incomes. Taking on a farm means accepting all of this as an inevitability.
Going into into farming isn’t merely a ‘career move’; it’s a complete lifestyle shift. The backdrop may be idyllic, but are you fully prepared for what’s involved?
The skillset: have you got what it takes?
It’s an industry that’s crying out for new talent. According to the Royal Agricultural Society of England, the average age of a British farmer is now 58. Figures from the European Council of Young Farmers show the percentage of farmers under 35 in the UK fell from 16 per cent to 2.8 per cent between 1990 and 2011. The net effect of this is that the UK farming industry needs 60,000 new farmers to fill the gaps.
It’s an environment where acute business and entrepreneurial skills can be put to good use. A head for logistics is crucial in an environment where margins are tight and management of resources can mean the difference between profit and loss. Accounts, DEFRA compliance documents, agricultural insurance: a farm is far from an admin-free zone. People management skills can also be extremely valuable – especially when trying to get the most out of seasonal workers. A head for tech and an understanding of science are becoming increasingly essential. Modern methods of animal and plant breeding and soil management require thorough knowledge and research.
Getting past the barriers
Despite the need for new farmers, getting into this niche is not easy. The price of land is a major hurdle: with figures showing farmland is increasing in value at a rate higher than the booming South East property market.
Tenancies are one route into the industry – although finding a suitable tenancy can be extremely difficult. As the Tenant Farmers Association reports, there is a vast under-supply of opportunities. Usually, landlords are faced with a choice of possible tenants – and the most obvious route for them is to opt for someone with plenty of prior experience (very often a neighbouring farmer). You need to convince the landlord the farm will be in competent hands – which means a sound business plan and budget are usually essential.
Getting hold of a farm is nowhere near as easy as taking a lease on commercial office space. Whether you are looking at the tenancy or freehold route, actually sourcing a suitable opportunity is likely to be the biggest hurdle you face. Plenty of research, familiarising yourself with what’s really involved and being able to convince either the landlord or the banks that you’re serious are all essential.
Bluefin is one of the UK’s leading independent insurance brokers, providing specialist insurance and risk management services to individuals and businesses. It provides market leading insurance solutions delivered locally through a network of 42 offices and over 1400 staff.