How to get into farming

Hampshire County Farms provides an inclusive gateway into farming, with all the opportunities and responsibilities a farming business will involve.

To become one of our tenants, you need to be able to show you’re eligible for a county farm. That includes having at least five years’ relevant practical farming experience. You also need to show enthusiasm for, and dedication to, the agricultural industry and sustainable, innovative farming.

Building up your experience and knowledge

A successful, fulfilling career can be had in the agricultural industry whether on your own farm or working for others. Peter Barfoot, a tenant of Hampshire County Farms and horticultural entrepreneur, is all too aware of the start-up costs put at risk when you start a farming business. Peter has offered his advice for aspiring farmers.

Working on a farm

As a farm worker you could move on to become a supervisor, dairy or arable unit manager, or assistant manager on a large farm. You may need to move from one farm to another to gain experience.

With experience and some capital, you could set up your own agricultural contracting business or build a livestock-based enterprise using any bare land lets or short-term seasonal grazing arrangements available to you locally Whether self-employed, working for others or a combination of both, these are typical and effective routes into farming taken by county farms applicants.

Peter says:

Why not be a farm manager or crop manager on somebody else’s farm? You can start off as an assistant manager, gradually gaining experience to eventually become a full manager. A salary scale starting at £40K graduating towards £100k plus. Often with accommodation and a truck thrown in
Working on a farm can be financially rewarding. A decent tractor driver/ machinery operator or sprayer operator can earn a good salary. Or, if you fancy being a herdsman, milking cows, then you can probably negotiate an even better deal.

There are no set qualifications to start working in farming, but qualifications exist to help you build your knowledge. Ask your local agricultural college about the further and higher education courses offered by them. Think about what courses appeal to you and the associated entry requirements you’ll need to meet.

Peter says:

To get to the top you will probably need to gain a degree in an agricultural subject preceded by a year's practical farming experience. Some farming or ancillary companies will offer part funded scholarships.
If you don’t feel that you are academic enough to get into university, don’t worry, neither was I. There are a number of colleges that offer agricultural courses which will give you a foundation in farming. Agricultural colleges such as Sparsholt College Hampshire. I went to Sparsholt.

An apprenticeship gives you an industry-recognised qualification while you’re learning on the job. It's a great way to build skills, knowledge, and experience while getting paid for it. Doing an agricultural apprenticeship can take you all the way up to managerial level. Intermediate, advanced and higher level apprenticeships can help you earn while you learn to become a:

  • farm worker
  • livestock technician
  • hatchery staff member (and then supervisor)
  • agriculture machinery operator
  • assistant farm manager and unit manager (and then manager

Peter says:

There are farming apprenticeships available that give you a foundation in agriculture possibly taking you all the way to managerial level. This way, you can earn as you learn!
Other ways into farming

As most will have read in farming publications from time to time, aspiring farmers can sometimes find ways into farming via less conventional routes, whether through matchmaking pilots bringing landowners and young farmers together or even, as mentioned in a Farmers Weekly article, by winning the lottery (we wish!)!

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a model growing in popularity nationally with over 200 CSAs in the UK. There are also landowners in Hampshire and further afield who are actively seeking to accommodate rural entrepreneurs with shared values, business acumen and innovative ideas on their land.

Tenancy opportunities remain in short supply and high demand. Consider how you might best market yourself and pitch your ideas to impress any land manager, whether they're advertising or not. At worst, you may well attract some excellent advocates to mentor and support you.

Managing finances

Tim Knapman is of our successful dairy farm tenants near Winchester. He has regularly provided work experience to Sparsholt College students to help them get started in the industry. Tim believes that good practical experience and formal qualifications are all essential points. He also warns that transitioning from employee to business owner can be a difficult period. It is vital to build capital assets like livestock and equipment, while in paid employment.

Tim says:

Capital has and always will be the biggest hurdle for new entrants. Get quality experience on the best performing farms not the mediocre, learn systems that work and those that don’t. Find advisers or mentors with a proven track record and develop a plan, monitor it, adapt it if necessary but always have a plan.
What has worked for me? The most productive person in your business should be you. I was good with animal husbandry and machines, less keen on accounts and paperwork so my wife Kathi and I split our tasks between us and specialised in them. Kathi focussed on breeding, pedigree registration and the accounts. My business focus was on rationing, feeding, forage production, machinery and relationship building.
Be prepared to pay for specialist help as needed to challenge and grow your business. Work to gain the trust of your bank manager. Don’t be afraid to borrow money but budget and cost everything. While expanding we were always confident the additional animals would pay for themselves at the very least, so sometimes we were still building capital assets even if no additional cash. We always aimed to increase the balance sheet year on year.
We have always planned long term, we consider pensions and property essential not optional. Always aim to be in the top portion of producers, never settle for average.