Rory Stewart - Farmer Network

Rory met with young farmers who have benefited from The Farmer Network’s Business Support Programme.

Mr Stewart met with The Farmer Network’s Kate Gascoyne and farmers Georgia Smith, Lorna Craig and Mark Curr at the latter’s family farm at Newbiggin-on-Lune where lambing was in full swing.

The Farmer Network has been running a Business Support Programme for disadvantaged young people in Cumbria and the Yorkshire Dales, who want to get a start in a farming-related business, for seven years. Eligible young people are offered a “package” of support involving a three-day basic business course, one-to-one business advice, access to grants of up to £4,000 and loans of up to £25,000. The programme is delivered using local farming experience and knowledge to ensure the support is practical, hard-headed and realistic.

The farmers met with Rory to explain what a difference The Farmer Network’s Business Support Programme had made to their lives – giving them the confidence, knowledge and support to set up or expand their own businesses. Mark Curr was given a loan to buy ewes and an Electronic Identification (EID) scanner, to allow him to generate extra income by scanning sheep for other farmers. Georgia, of Ravenstonedale, was on the programme in 2016 and received a grant to test the market and a loan to set up a goat-meat producing and retailing business, which is going from strength to strength. Lorna Craig, of Brough, completed the business course last year and has had advice on a calf and stirk rearing enterprise.

Since it started in 2012, 103 young people have completed the programme’s business course; 101 have been given business advice and 35 have received loans, ranging from £4,000 to £25,000. Grants of over £80,000 have also been given for training, market investigation or legal advice.

So far the programme has so far been funded by a combination of The Prince’s Countryside Fund, which covered the costs of administration and the business course, and the Prince’s Trust, which funded the loans, grants and one-to-one business advice. This funding is due to end in 2019 but the programme is still attracting new young people. The Farmer Network is currently looking for new sponsors and funding partners.

After the meeting, Mr Stewart said: “I was delighted to meet Mark, Georgia and Lorna and was impressed to see how they had really taken advantage of the Business Support Programme. And I’m very grateful to Mark for taking time out of his busy lambing schedule to host the meeting.

“It can be very difficult for young people to get a start in this industry but it is vital to agriculture’s future that they do. It’s brilliant to see how The Farmer Network, Prince’s Trust and The Prince’s Countryside Trust have been able to support these young people, giving them access to salient advice and funding that can make all the difference to their lives.”

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