Supporting the Future Generation of Farming

24th January 2020

H&H Group is instrumental in supporting young farmers to diversify through low cost loan support; a £50,000 fund has been created specifically for entrepreneurial young farmers to help to drive the next generation of farming and countryside diversification.  Here, Richard Rankin, CEO of the Group, speaks candidly about the challenges ahead for the farming community and how support such as this will be a lifeline to many in the industry, who are struggling to get their agricultural businesses off the ground and their foot onto the first rung of the farming ladder.

“Looking forward to a new decade, it is important to reflect on where the farming industry is heading, especially in terms of the future generation of farming.  That is why we have decided to get involved with “The Farmer Network Farming Ambition – Business Support for Young People” programme. This exists specifically to help the young farmers of the future, who can demonstrate an innovative rural business idea, to get off the ground and become sustainable.

“Through supporting and engaging with diversification projects the programme enables young farmers, our future custodians of the countryside, to develop their skills and reap the rewards of their hard work and become self-generating.  By this I mean successful recipients of the fund will be able to not only pay back the funds that helped them to realise their goals but become self-sustaining in their own right, enabling us to re-invest those funds for another bright young spark with a great rural business idea.  It really is a positive cycle of success and one all parties can take an immense sense of pride in.

“Essentially, we need to be there to ensure that young farmers stay in agriculture in some way, even if it requires diversification.  At H&H Group, we focus on the next generation and always encourage our apprentices to gain the experience to become specialists in their field, whether they are auctioneers at our mart, trainee rural surveyors or graphic designers in our rural printing business.

“In farming, it isn’t always so simple.  One of the challenges we face is the generational problem, whereby a father’s father may still be working a farm and it has yet to pass to the son, let alone the grandson so in reality the youngest farmer in the family is just functioning as a farm-hand with little access to funds or opportunity to raise the necessary money.  It’s hardly an advertisement for opportunities for the next generation of farmers.

“This is precisely why we have set up this fund, to help young farmers who would otherwise fall between the cracks, despite being full of drive and entrepreneurial spirit. It is often very daunting for young people to approach lenders for support, so that’s why this fund has a simple and fully supported application process. Working on this programme with our partners, The Farmer Network and Enterprise Answers, as well as our funders, The Prince’s Countryside Fund, Cumbria Community Foundation, the Francis C Scott Trust and the Yorkshire Dales National Park, young people should feel that they are able to take their idea forward avoiding as much red tape as possible.”

“However, it isn’t just about the funds which essentially provide the springboard.  Long before any funds are released, the applicant has to develop and upskill themselves through a Business Support Programme.  This will help them frame and position their business idea into a fully thought out plan.  Once the idea has been fully explored and tested with business advisor and input from The Farmer Network, a young person can apply for an injection of funds and a whole raft of tools and support is then available to enable the idea to flourish.  This initiative exists to provide a significant amount of extra support and mentoring to ensure that their hand is held in the early, and often very overwhelming stages.”

The programme is a collaboration between Enterprise Answers who offers business funding support across the North of England, The Farmer Network at Newton Rigg College and H&H Group, to deliver the fund to support the next generation of farmers for the foreseeable future.

The funding works as part of a wider programme, whereby a young person attends a three-day business course followed up with the allocation of a Business Advisor to support assist and steer them through the process of testing their area and gaining funding.

A previous benefactor of a similar loan is Simon Dalton, who farms at Greenside Hallbankgate, Brampton.  The loans scheme is now is its 13th iteration, and Simon was in the 3rd group of the original programme in 2014 so has had time to demonstrate the benefit of the advice and funding he gained.

Simon sought support from the scheme to draw up a business plan and apply for a loan to be able to buy stock and machinery from his Grandad and to take on the farm tenancy from his Grandad’s landlord. It is not an easy farm, but he could enter an Environmental Stewardship Scheme which allowed extensive grazing with pedigree Longhorn cattle, Limousin crosses, and Texel sheep.  Simon is a true advocate of the programme and process and is proud to still be farming his 400 acres six years down the line:

“The £25,000 fund I received gave me the chance I would not otherwise have had as I did not have the cash to buy out my grandparent’s tenancy.  If it wasn’t for the initial funding from the Prince’s Trust, which has now ceased, further support from the Farming Ambition programme, and the landlord believing in the next generation of farmers, I would not be where I am today – helping to sustain my own part of the agricultural industry.

“The business and financial advice and lessons I learnt on the short informal course was second-to-none. They gave me help to produce my business plan, and I have received unwavering support from a tremendous mentor, who years down the road is still a lifeline for me as I never feel alone on this complex journey.

“Things are very tough in the agricultural industry, especially for new entrants but my passion and the funds and support have seen me through and given me the foundations to build my business, now I want to see others follow in my footsteps grasping similar opportunities.”

Simon is a typical example of how tricky it is to get going and deal with adverse conditions or uncertainty in the first few years of a business – worries about markets and environmental payments are uppermost in his mind. Changes in payment dates and delays with environmental and BPS payments, as well as extreme weather conditions made it difficult for Simon over the past few years, but he has benefitted from the support of his volunteer mentor Veronica Schofield, his landlord and the staff at the Prince’s Trust to re-structure payments and extend the low interest loan when needed.

As part of his continuous improvement, Simon also took part in a local Farmer Network Prince’s Countryside Farm Resilience Programme group 2 years ago, which helped farmers to examine their businesses and their individual potential opportunities. He is also now in a position to help farmers in his local area to get together to look at issues that affect them, by co-ordinating local group meetings, further evidence of the positive cycle the programme creates.

The loan element of the “Farming Ambition – Business Support for Young People” initiative is the brainchild of Grahame Latus, Chief Executive of Enterprise Answers, who is passionate about the programme and its benefits to young farmers:

“It’s always extremely rewarding to see a young person with an initial idea seeking this support and seeing their plan come to fruition.  This innovative and forward-thinking process and funding provides a tremendous support to the next generation of farmers and their future depends on it”.

For more information, including case studies of previous applicants, please visit the Farmer Network website 

The H&H Group is proud of its heritage of serving the rural community for over 140 years.  It operates as a holding company with a number of its companies operational across the auctioneering, commercial print, insurance and property sectors.  Working with rural businesses to deliver the highest quality support services, this programme is a welcome addition to this portfolio to support the local farming community to be fit for the future.