17 January 2023
The knowledge and experience of an established sheep farmer and the ambition and energy of a new entrant have combined in a new joint venture farming partnership facilitated by Farming Connect’s Venture service.
Second generation farmer Ian Rickman has brought in Sean Jeffreys as a partner to help him farm Gurnos, an 84-hectare upland farm near Bethlehem, Llandeilo.
Ian has lived and worked at Gurnos Farm all his life but combining this with his role as deputy president of the Farmers’ Union of Wales in recent years has presented challenges with running the farm single-handedly.
“I wasn’t giving the farm the attention it needed and was concerned that I would start winding the business down, cutting back on stock numbers. I didn’t want that to happen.’’
Keen to pursue his off-farm commitments but not yet ready to retire from farming, he sought help from Farming Connect’s Venture initiative.
This matchmaking service pairs up new entrants with landowners who are looking to step back from the industry and offers funding for business planning and legal guidance.
Farming Connect is delivered by Menter a Busnes and Lantra Wales and funded by the Welsh Government and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development.
Ian wanted to give a young person the opportunity to farm. “I was lucky enough to farm because my parents had bought Gurnos in the seventies but if you are not born into farming it is a difficult industry to get into.
“I didn’t want to just rent out the farm because I still wanted to be involved.’’
The opportunity was advertised by Farming Connect and drew eight applicants, including 25-year-old Sean Jeffreys.
Sean, who lived at nearby Ffairfach, had grown up in Swansea but his grandparents had a smallholding where they kept sheep and he has always had an interest in agriculture.
He became a partner at Gurnos in September 2022 after funding from Farming Connect’s Venture service helped navigate the legal hurdles. The partnership gives Ian and Sean an equal share of the profits.
Ian admits that Venture was an important part of the process. “I wouldn’t have known where to start without that help.’’
It provided access to legal advice from specialist agricultural and rural law solicitor, Dr Nerys Llewelyn Jones, of Agri Advisor.
“We were able to tell her what we envisaged and what we both wanted to get out of it, we definitely needed that professional advice,’’ says Ian.
They were also supported by a business consultant to help them plan a way forward.
The pair have already scaled up ewe numbers by 100, with 500 Llandovery-type Welsh Mountains due to lamb in March, and there are also 200 ewe lambs.
The ambition is for yet more sheep, “lots of them!’’ laughs Sean. “We want to grow the business,’’ he says.
His off-farm job as a sales representative for an agricultural supply company has allowed him to invest in the new farming partnership.
“We have spent a lot of money buying ewes, even if you have got the land you have got to stock the place,’’ says Sean.
He is thrilled that he has been given the opportunity to farm, it is a step on the farming ladder, “a chance to develop’’, he says.
“If the farm had come up for rent I would never have been able to rent, stock and kit it out, it just never would have happened.’’
Sean says it is reassuring to have Ian still involved in the business. “It is like having a mentor and one who is open minded and willing enough to let me put my stamp on the business.’’
He has also made use of the Farming Connect Advisory Service to access technical livestock advice.
Ian is pleased he has been able to bring a new entrant into agriculture.
“If we don’t get young people involved in farming the industry will just stagnate, we won’t move forward,’’ he says.
“When I went through the Farming Connect process I realised there were a lot of young people who really wanted to farm but there are so few chances for them to do that unless they are born into it.
“If I had offered this place out to rent it would most likely have gone to an established business, not a new entrant, but a joint venture allows someone without a lot of capital to get involved.’’
Although every farmer’s situation is different, Ian believes the Venture programme is definitely one to consider.
“I felt that I didn’t have anything to lose, by dipping my toe into the water to see who was out there.’’
Ian and Sean have already passed one of the biggest tests of their professional relationship – the decision making involved in buying sheep. “If we can agree on that we can agree on anything!’’ says Ian.