A Rural Innovation Support Service (RISS) group is tackling the double bind of an ageing farming population and lack of access to Scottish land for new entrants.
While other countries already have some kind of ‘land matching' service in place, Scotland does not, but that is set to change.
"You end up with a lot more cows!"
“In Ireland I came across an example,” says RISS group member, farmer (and former Agri-Champion) Henry Graham, who sits on the Scottish Government’s Farming Opportunities for New Entrants group (FONE), “where a 70-year-old farmer wanted to retire but his children didn’t want to take over. He’d sold his cows and was renting the grass out for a few months.
“The land matching service there put him in touch with a 40-year-old with 50 cows. They started working together and the 70-year-old stepped back to spend time on improving the business. Now they have 120 cows together.
“It shows what is possible: when you combine the expertise of the elderly with the drive and enthusiasm of the young, you end up with a lot more cows!”
"A model that seems to work really well is the ‘honest broker’"
Stephen Young of the Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society (SAOS) is facilitating the RISS group, which means it’s his job to pull the group members together and help them work towards a project plan. He says: “We are working with the NFUS, the Land Commission, Young Farmers, land agents, Scottish Land and Estates and the National Forestry Estate tenants, amongst others, to figure out the best way forward.
Picture: RISS facilitator Stephen Young of SAOS
“At the moment we’re scoping out how things are done in other countries, but a model that seems to work really well is the ‘honest broker’ role. That means a person who does the matching, often employed by an organisation like the Young Farmers, funded by a combination of Government and industry.”
Young says the matching could take different forms, and needs to be handled sensitively, on a case by case basis. “It’s about getting the right people together who have skills and assets that complement each other. That could mean be a joint venture, a partnership or taking over a lease. It’s not a dating agency though, they need good support. A lot of landowners would be happy to speak to someone about retiring, but it’s a very personal thing. It’s not about making money out of each other, it’s about making money together.”
Penny Montgomerie, Chief Executive of the Scottish Association of Young Farmers Club (SAYFC), is a group member and says she is well aware of the issue. “Because we’re involved with young people, we regularly see that issue of lack of availability of land combined with an ageing workforce. In my own family, my dad is selling the farm because he doesn’t have a successor.”
The group will continue to figure out what a Scottish land matching service should look like and how it can be funded. "We’re not reinventing the wheel," says Young, "but I think it’s a chance to do something meaningful."