‘Getting a start is no easy matter without money’

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Youngsters without capital were advised this week that they now have little chance of getting a start in farming.

But there is no reason why they should expect to, said Berwickshire farmer Jonathon Constable.

He told members of the Merse Agricultural Discussion Society, meeting in Duns: “I could say I wanted to be head man at Tesco. Who gave you the right to expect to walk in to a farm? If you eventually make it, you have to earn it.

“But with farming now if you don’t have the money to buy your way in you’re not in the game. That’s the way life is.”

Answering a perennial question, from the audience, of “How will the next generation of farmers get a start?” Constable added:

“When it comes to offering a rent, you’re up against established farmers. If it’s land for sale, someone with money will pay more. When it comes to an opening, you cannot stop older farmers carrying on farming if they want to.”

He also had advice for those with capital: “If you had access to, say, £200,000, why would you stay in Scotland to farm when you could go abroad and get much more for your money?” He went on: “I did not sit moaning in England about what I couldn’t do, I moved 400 miles north to Scotland and got more for my money. Now try eastern Europe for opportunities. Don’t sit here waiting.”

The paradox is that Constable built up his own farming and diversification business from nothing. He agreed: “I never inherited anything, I started with nothing. But that’s not possible today.”

He worked as a 15-year old on a dairy farm, then on a broiler-chicken unit before working at Smithfield meat market for seven years. Partnership with his brother in a small property business ended when he began farming on his own in 1975 with a rented poultry unit.

His first land purchase of 45 acres cost £15,000. He also rented 85 acres and reared poultry, sheep and pigs. In 1987 he moved from the south of England to buy 500-acre Meikle Harelaw: “Land prices in Scotland were low compared with England, that’s why I took the chance.”

He now farms 900 acres, finishes a large number of beef cattle each year, and has a substantial number of holiday-let cottages in the area.