When a 115-hectare, ringfenced arable unit came up for rent just five miles from her family’s farm in Aberdeenshire, Harriet Ross and her partner Ben Lowe knew it was an opportunity too good to miss.
Despite Miss Ross never expecting to pursue a career in agriculture and Mr Lowe not coming from a farming background, the couple’s tender was successful and they took on the farm in 2019.
The combination of skills from their off-farm jobs – with Miss Ross working as an agricultural consultant at Strutt and Parker and Mr Lowe an Agrovista agronomist – put them in good stead for the role.
Miss Ross says: “I had good experience with budgets, so when we went for the [farm tenancy] interview we knew the figures inside out.
I think this is really important because these set-ups are all about trust.
The landlord wants to trust that you will pay the rent, look after the place and leave it in better condition than when you found it.
“Once we knew we had an interview, we got letters from banks and solicitors just to try and back us up a bit and prove we had that working capital and overdraft allowance that would get us started in farming.
Confidence “We didn’t really think we would be offered the farm because there are other local, well established farm businesses that we knew would also go for it, but we’re very lucky our landlord had the confidence to back us as new entrants.
“We’re a bit riskier than an established business, so the landlord has got to be willing to take that risk as well.”
The couple have both kept their off-farm jobs, finding a good balance between the farm and the office.
“We rely quite a bit on contractors on the farm and we have tried to keep it as quite a simple set-up.
We’re mainly arable and all the spring work is done by contractors because Ben and I are busy then.
“Harvest time is quiet for our jobs off-farm, so we take leave to get harvest done at home.
Our jobs and the farm complement each other and I think that was a big plus when we were trying to get the tenancy – we had a secure income with both of our wages coming in.”
The couple also have to strike a fine balance between keeping the business simple but making money wherever possible.
“We don’t really have the time or money to invest in our own livestock, so we started bed and breakfast pigs to make the most of shed space and give us some muck to put onto the arable side.
“We can do most of the pig work at night and they don’t take a lot of our time, other than mucking them out every six weeks.
Livestock are an important part of the business, with our aim to keep the arable set-up as sustainable as possible.”
They also work closely with Miss Ross’ parents’ farm, sharing machinery and getting contracting work on other local farms to justify the cost of the combine.
“We only buy new kit if we can justify it, so we have a tight shopping list.
My advice to any new entrant would be to really keep a close eye on your numbers.”