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Young entrant helps pig farmers solve succession dilemma

A new share farming agreement on a Carmarthenshire heritage pig farm has provided an exciting business opportunity for a first-generation farmer and a succession strategy for the owners.

Hugh and Katharine Brookes had spent six years establishing their Mangalitza herd at Penlan Farm, near Cenarth, building up a strong order book with top London restaurants among their customers.

But with their children not interested in taking over the business from them one day, it’s future was uncertain.

“We knew we had a really good business, a business that has legs,’’ says Katharine.

“It has real potential for growth, but because of our stage in life we felt that we were probably not the right people to do that.’’

Share farming is a route they had not considered until they were made aware of the Farming Connect ‘Start to Farm’ initiative.

This service is designed to pair up landowners who are looking to step back from the industry with new entrants, providing funding for business planning and legal guidance.

“We had an initial meeting with Wendy Jenkins, of CARA, and Nerys Llewellyn Jones of Agri Advisor, facilitated through Farming Connect,’’ Katharine explains.

“We wrote the specification and were about to do a national search when it dawned on us that we knew the very person who had all the qualities we had listed in that specification.’’

That person was Alice Bacon, who helped them out with feeding the herd once a fortnight.

She lived in Clynderwen, a 30-minute drive from the farm, and had always had an interest in agriculture, she was even renting a smallholding until 2021.

“The reason we knew she was the stand-out candidate was because she is someone who uses her initiative, for example when a water trough is broken or the pigs are in the wrong pens, we had seen that for ourselves,’’ says Katharine.

They approached Alice and she was delighted to be given the opportunity.

“It had never felt like work, working with the pigs,’’ she says.

Farming Connect helped to facilitate the agreement, which was signed in April 2023.

This agreement sees Alice working 30 hours of unpaid work a month on the farm and 40 hours of paid work. In return for the unpaid work, she acquires a stake in the ownership of the herd.

By 4 April 2024 she will own 9% of the stock, and 49% within five years.

“At that point we will look at how we move the business over to Alice completely so that she becomes the sole owner,’’ Hugh explains.

Both parties feel that communication is key to making a share farming agreement work. There are formal meetings every two months and issues are also addressed as they arise. 

“I met some people at a Farming Connect Business Bootcamp who had done a bit of share farming and it hadn’t worked for them but I can now see the reason for that was because of poor communication,’’ says Alice.

“Communication is key. If something is not working, it’s really important to address it otherwise it is never going to work out in the long term.’’

Alice, who was also selected to take part in the Farming Connect Agri Academy last year, has brought fresh ideas to the business while she has gained important knowledge from Hugh and Katharine.

Hugh and Katharine don’t believe they would have transitioned into share farming without the support of Start to Farm. 

“We needed that hand holding as we were going along,’’ says Hugh. “The people we worked with through Farming Connect made us take a hard look at the future of the business and its options, they definitely gave us confidence.’’

For more information on the Start to Farm programme and the support available on farm succession visit the website or contact Eiry Williams on 07985155670 or e-mail[email protected]

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