Supporting Cumbrian Farmers when they need it most

17th December 2019

Helping to maintain and develop a sustainable farming community in Cumbria and the Yorkshire Dales, was the aim of The Farmer Network, when it was formed in 2006.

Since then, it has been raising the profile of farming, as well as encouraging collaboration between farmers and helping them to apply for funding for training and development courses.

Based in Penrith, it now has more than 1,100 members. The Foundation has supported it from its very beginning when during times of hardship in the years following the foot and mouth epidemic in 2001, it provided help and support to farmers where it was most needed.

The Foundation has provided ongoing funding support worth more than £175,000 to farmer initiatives including its training voucher scheme, farming landscape and fell gather events and most recently, the Business Support for Young People Programme.

The first grant helped to establish the Farmer Network. The funding helped towards promotional costs including a new website, training workshops for farmers, school visits and farm walks for the general public, team member training and organising and managing a training programme for nine young people to become employed farm assistants.

One of its aims is to encourage young people aged 16-25 to get into agriculture and set themselves up as self-employed farm assistants. Farming and forestry together contribute around 3% of total employment in the county and the average age in the farming community is often quoted as nearing 60.

Then came the Cumbria Farm Assistant Scheme, which involved training in a wide range of technical skills, including tractor driving, basic animal care, health and safety, basic farm maintenance and business skills, such as self-employment, finance and marketing. The youngsters were also able to apply for training vouchers through the Network to help pay for  training.

Elizabeth Moore, Training Co-ordinator, said: “Every course taken provides a vital skill to help these young people become more safety-conscious, efficient food producers of the future. Training to take the trailer-handling test is essential for the young person to be able to take livestock from the farmstead to outlying fields or to auction themselves, freeing up other family members to do other work.

“Those who have taken the sheep shearing course can hire out their skills to other farmers who can trust their ability to handle the sheep safely. One young farmer told me, very proudly, that for the first time he been able to shear all his father’s flock after attending the shearing course.”

Further grants provided vouchers worth £200 each year to people aged between 15 and 40 to spend on training courses needed to work safely on farms, while also improving employability among young farmers. Nearly all the applicants come from farm families that are under severe financial pressure – a quarter of farms have an income of £20,000 or less, with upland grazing livestock farms facing the greatest financial struggles.

James Hodgson, a farmer from Bampton, received a training voucher to enable him to subsidise the cost of trailer training. He said: “The scheme was very beneficial and the administration simple. I wouldn’t have been able to afford to pay for my trailer test without the voucher. Passing the test has allowed me to transport equipment and livestock, such as taking my cattle to shows and auction marts, which improves the viability of the farm.”

Liam Braithwaite from Scales Farm, near Penrith, said: “The £200 Training Voucher gave me the opportunity to gain a licence sooner than expected as it is very expensive to operate a 360 digger. This has given me more options with work as I am now qualified to work on sites away from the farm as well.”

Other initiatives the Network offers include Fell Gather events, which promote sustainable communities through sustainable energy and recycling and attracts around 1,500 people each year.

As well as supporting farmers directly, the Network also aims to help them by educating people in more urban areas about farming, food, the environment and local, rural communities. The farming road shows are run by volunteers, who are members of the Network, and are trained in how to interpret different aspects of farming to the general public. The events help increase knowledge about farming, food and the landscape.

The Storm Emma Hardship fund was set up with grants from Cumbria Community Foundation in response to the devastating snow and wind conditions experienced in Cumbria in early 2018. The Farmer Network administered the fund, awarding more than £30,000 to 79 farms.

The Farmer Network administered the fund, set up in recognition of the hardship faced by households impacted by the extreme weather and was not a compensation scheme with awards typically between £250 and £500, with a small number of the worst affected households getting £1,000. Almost 80 farms were supported.

More recently the Network started The Business Support for Young People programme for 18- 30 year olds who have a farm-related business idea but are limited by the resources or opportunities available to them. It offers business planning, one-to-one support from an experienced farm business adviser and the chance to apply for a low interest loan and training grant, plus ongoing support from a volunteer business mentor.

Farmer Network Project Manager, Kate Gascoyne, said: “The first group will be started in October 2019 and we want to hear from young people who are keen to develop a business idea related to farming. We are delighted to receive this grant which, in these uncertain times, we will use to guide and support these young people to enable them to become the future of farming in Cumbria.”