Aspiring farmers were told to make their own opportunities at an event for new entrants to the agricultural industry this week.
More than 120 people attended the annual New Entrants to Farming Gathering at Perth Race Course to learn about the variety of different routes open to them.
The event was organised under the Scottish Government’s Farm Advisory Service (FAS) programme, and delivered by specialists from SAC Consulting – part of Scotland’s Rural College.
Speakers included a shepherdess who swapped city life for the countryside, an entrepreneur who created an outdoor centre on five acres of farmland and a first generation farmer who combines beef and sheep farming with gin production.
Former SRUC Agriculture student and mum-of-three Jenny McKerr worked in the Scottish beef industry before she and her husband bought a small beef and sheep farm in South Lanarkshire four years ago.
In addition to building up their livestock and fencing enterprises, the couple have set up a distillery to produce a gin to drink with beef and planted an orchard to provide fruit for their gin liqueurs.
“The advice I would give to my daughters is do it your own way, be the black sheep and don’t just follow a farming model,” said Jenny. “Have a plan and make it your own. Chase opportunities or create them. There are so many opportunities out there. Find what makes you happy and do more of it.”
Hannah Jackson also came into farming as a new entrant and has since set herself up as a contract shepherdess, sharing her experiences and marketing her brand on social media as the Red Shepherdess.
She said she had faced many challenges along the way, but had overcome them by looking for opportunities to expand her knowledge.
“Opportunities are not just going to present themselves to you,” she said. “You have to go out and look for them. Think outside the box. If you’re passionate, confident and enthusiastic, it’s hard for someone to turn you away.”
Duncan McConchie returned to the family farm in Dumfries and Galloway after working in the TV industry in Yorkshire.
With five acres of poor quality farmland to play with, he built up an outdoor adventure and recreational centre, and has since moved into the wedding market, offering a high-quality venue and accommodation.
“Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” he said. “There is a vibrant tourism market out there.
“We don’t have a fear of borrowing. We have total confidence in the product we have and the customers who are coming to us.”
Other speakers included Andrew Wells, who is responsible for 37,000 hectares of the Crown Estate’s rural and coastal land, Rodney Wallace, Agriculture Director for HSBC in south west Scotland, SAC consultants Robert Ramsay and Kirsten Williams, and SRUC’s Agricultural Economist Steven Thomson.
Kirsten, who chaired the event, said: “Today’s event has been filled with motivated, inspirational people who think differently, take risks and have built successful businesses.
“Key messages were to embrace change, never say no to an opportunity and market yourself as well as your product.”
Visit FAS website for more information about the support offered to new entrants.