Tenants from all seven Forestry Commission Scotland starter farms came together last week for a forum to share their experiences and help to develop their farming businesses.
The new ‘Starter Farmers Forum’ meets four times a year and aims to help all the farmers learn as a group with free discussion on any topics associated with the starter farm programme.
Through the forum, all the farmers have the opportunity to improve their business skills and in turn boost profitability.
The meeting took place at Rhynaclach starter farm near Aberfoyle, which is run by Mark Donald and his partner Harriet Smith.
Forestry Commission Scotland’s agricultural advisor, Robin Waddell said:
“The starter farm programme is proving a big success and has helped a number of tenants get their first step onto the farming ladder.
“It is important though to keep looking at how we can improve the programme in the best interests of the tenants and future tenants – this is what the forum is all about.
”It was great to see such a high turnout at this inaugural meeting, which was a superb chance for the group to meet each other and understand that they all face similar issues.
“There are already very positive signs of close bonds and willingness to help each other meet the challenges of growing new businesses.”
The forum is being facilitated by SAC Consulting and this first meeting was mainly focused on planning the programme for the future – among the topics to be targeted are risk management (financial and personal), business resilience, land tenure options and visits from inspiring individuals that have “been there and got the tee-shirt”.
To add diversity to the forum, the new tenant of the Scottish Government’s first Starter Farm, a private sector new entrant and a new entrant contract farmer are also part of the group.
There are currently seven Forestry Commission Scotland starter farms in operation across Scotland including units in Fife, Ayrshire, Stirlingshire, Aberdeenshire and Dumfriesshire. Another three starter farms are set to come on stream.
Applications have now closed for the eighth starter farm, to be located at Achnamoine in Caithness, and these will be assessed prior with a view to the tenant being in place in April 2015.
Two further starter farms are to be advertised next year - one near Huntly at a farm called Woodfold (the ninth), to be offered in spring 2015 and the other in Tayside advertised next summer 2015 (the tenth).
For more information www.forestry.gsi.gov.uk/starterfarms