A group of tenant farmers on the Englefield Estate are among the first in the UK to receive business and environmental advice, fully funded by their landlord, to help them assess the future of their farms as they transition to Environmental Land Management (ELM) schemes.
Stretching across West Berkshire and Hampshire and extending to around 14,000 acres, Englefield became the first private estate in the UK to organise workshops for 14 of its farm tenants through The Prince’s Countryside Fund’s Farm Resilience Programme (FRP).
Chris Webber runs an 800-acre haylage business comprising haylage, hay, straw and wheat with associated liveries and business rental units at Amners Farm near Reading. He praised the estate for giving him access to the programme, which he has found helpful for succession planning and assessing the current position of his business. Following the succession planning session, Chris decided to raise the issue with his four children. He says it was a ‘carpe diem’ moment, as he knew the future of the family business was a discussion he needed to have with his two sons, Michael, 23, and Stephen, 19, and daughters Hannah, 20, and Zoë, 17.
As a third-generation farmer, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather before him, he could be forgiven for thinking that it would be the boys who might be interested in stepping into his boots.
“To be honest, that’s what they had expected me to say – that I would assume they would take it over and that I wouldn’t even think the girls would be interested. But the reality was that the boys wanted to do other things and it was my daughters who were keen.
“None of us have made any firm decisions, because like everything in life, things could change, but what is important is that we have had the discussion now.”
Fellow tenant farmer Tony White of Malthouse Farm has lived on the estate for more than 70 years; his father Alfred was a tenant farmer there before him. Now aged 75, succession planning was also an important part of the programme for Tony. “It made us think about ensuring our wills are in place, as well as the necessary arrangements needed to enable my son to take over the tenancy,” says Tony.
Edward Crookes, Estates Director, says: “With changes underway, it was important for us as an estate to ensure our tenant farmers didn’t feel isolated and overwhelmed but empowered and ready to meet future challenges.
“We hope this programme of workshops has helped to give them the knowledge they need to look to the future with renewed confidence, embrace the sustainability agenda and forge a successful future for them and their families, knowing we are there to do what we can to support them.”
Farm Resilience Programme
The FRP is an initiative run by The Prince’s Countryside Fund, a UK-wide charity that helps family farms and rural communities and helps them to survive, thrive and create a strong future for rural Britain. Founded more than a decade ago by His Majesty King Charles III, the FRP runs several programmes, networks and support groups designed to help family farms and wider rural communities.
Keith Halstead, Executive Director of The Prince’s Countryside Fund, says: “At this critical time of change for farming, our Farm Resilience Programme galvanises the partnership between landowners and tenant farmers and builds confidence in decision-making.
“This allows estates and farming families to ensure their business plans make the most of new environmental opportunities on offer and are fit for the future. With pressure and uncertainty for farmers only likely to increase, the FRP is more important than ever in helping estates and the family farms on them to thrive, as demonstrated at Englefield.”
The workshops cover a series of topics that focus on business skills training for family farmers. They are open to dairy and livestock family farm businesses and take what the fund calls ‘a whole-farm and whole-family approach.’ An independent evaluation of the FRP in 2021 by environmental consultancy ADAS found that it delivers significant economic, social and environmental benefits for farmers – 56% of those taking part reported increased profitability, 73% improved business skills and 46% improved their succession planning.
Furthermore, for every £1 invested in the programme, participating farms saw an average return of £3. The estate also facilitated the farm tenancy workshop, delivered by the Tenant Farmers Association and its Chief Executive George Dunn. George says: “The focus was to look at how landlords and tenants could collaborate more effectively to take advantage of the new opportunities around the ELM schemes.
“We also looked at the increased focus on other sources of payment for environmental services, including carbon credits and Biodiversity Net Gain. The usual issues of succession, repairs and regulatory compliance were also covered in a closed session with tenants and in one-to-one discussions. The estate says the FRP was critical for it to give farmers the best possible chance to evaluate their business operations, ensuring they can continue to thrive while meeting the challenges of the ELM sustainability agenda.”
To discover how The Prince’s Countryside Fund can help your estate, contact Maddy Taylor at email@example.com.