From a Time Warp

Here is my very first Farmers Guardian blog, first published on the 18th October 2006 (oh the naivety!):


My first sheep have arrived. Admittedly there are only 10 ewes and a tup, but they are a start.

There is a long way to go, but these are my first steps of a massive career change, away from the comforts of a guaranteed monthly income and towards being a farmer.

Having spent many years both studying and working at universities, my current career of Cancer research scientist has recently been losing its appeal. The insecurity of the research grant system meant that you can only plan your life in 2-3 year blocks. Not particularly appealing when you have a wife and a young daughter. So after much thought, I took the decision to follow a long-held dream and become a sheep farmer.

I suppose that the current state of the farming industry does not really recommend it as a career with major prospects, but I hope that with a fresh approach and lots of hard work, it should work for us.

I started laying the ground work some time ago, helping a local sheep farmer with lambing, shearing and all of the other (frequently messy) tasks that are so necessary. I began reading all of the DEFRA publications, and trying to untangle the Byzantine regulations. I contacted every organization with sheep, organic or farming in their title, and many more besides. I stacked hay bales and pulled ragwort.

In short, I tried to expose myself to as much of the farming necessities as possible. I also slightly changed my university job to allow a three-day week, giving myself that extra farming time while guaranteeing an income.

However, without a farm, none of this will make any difference. I looked into buying, and hurriedly concluded that I had no chance. Unless you have quarter of a million pounds to spare for a deposit and a long farming background, you cannot get an agricultural mortgage. So renting became the only option, though not necessarily a worse one.

Thus began a constant round of phone calls to land agents, the National Trust, the big estates etc. The anticipation of the next issue of Farmers Guardian with the “To be let” section of the classifieds, and the disappointment of nothing available. The occasional visit to a possible farm to find that there is no house, or no buildings, or only a few acres of grazing. It does seem that on many of the big estates, the houses make more money as residential lets with the land going to local farmers. It also raises questions about how hard you push. Too much and you will end up annoying the people whose goodwill you require, not hard enough and you may lose that prized tender.

It is also obvious that my lack of agricultural background will count against me when it comes to the consideration of tenders. I feel I have done all of the right things: spoken to potential markets about sales, spoken to the DEFRA “Fresh Start” initiative people (and their local representatives), spoken to land agents about preparing tenders, spoken to the Tenant Farmers Association.

All of these have been very helpful, but at the end of the day, it all comes down to whether you are given an opportunity to prove yourself or not.

And that brings me to the present. We had heard on a local grapevine about a farm coming available, and we have been in constant touch with the agents for months. We should hopefully hear in the next few weeks whether it will become available or not. If it does, we will just have to hope our tender is successful. If not, then it will be back to the FG classifieds, the regular phonecalls and the frustration.

Still, I have my 11 sheep, which is a start…..


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