A young farmer says he is relishing a once in a lifetime opportunity after being awarded the highly sought after tenancy of a vast upland plot by Yorkshire Water.
Jonathan Grayshon, a 28-year-old sheep farmer from Dacre in Nidderdale has won a rare deal - a 15-year tenancy of 900-hectare Humberstone Bank Farm at nearby Blubberhouses after a gruelling six-month application process.
The average age of a farmer is 59, meaning Mr Grayshon finds himself in a position that few people his age achieve - and it is a feat which he said was only possible by spending years working away from his own family’s farm.
The young farmer, who beat 22 other applicants to the Yorkshire Water tenancy, said he was only capable of taking on the long-term guardianship of a huge acreage because of the experience he had gained on other farmers’ land and by earning money to build up his own flock of sheep.
Mr Grayshon helps run his family’s farm in Dacre but he sought the tenancy of Humberstone Bank Farm after its previous occupiers retired.
“Ideally I’ve wanted to farm in my own right so I have worked off farm and did a research job with Askham Bryan College for three years and went into agricultural consultancy and then farm management. I built up my own sheep flock part-time whilst working in other agricultural roles.
Think about your long-term plan and what experience you need.Jonathan Grayshon, the new tenant of Humberstone Bank Farm in Blubberhouses
“I’ve taken a stepping stone path to get the most experience in business and management, and earning as much money as I can to invest into my own sheep flock. Two or three years ago I wouldn’t have had enough capital to take this on.”
He said it is difficult for young people to get started in farming.
“You have to think outside the box: think about your long-term plan and about what experience you need.”
Mr Grayshon’s tenancy begins at the end of the month and he will be taking his 150 breeding ewes with him and moving into a farmhouse there. Over the next three years he hopes to expand his flock to 400.
Yorkshire Water began searching for a new tenant in March and it has been looking for someone who could manage the land, which lies within a Site of Special Scientific Interest, in a way that meets its ‘Beyond Nature’ vision.
This vision involves combining traditional livestock farming with protecting wildlife biodiversity, water quality, carbon storage and grouse shooting.
Lisa Harrowsmith, a lead surveyor at Yorkshire Water, said: “The Beyond Nature ethos is all about sustainable farming that protects water quality, wildlife biodiversity, peatland and carbon storage. We believe that Jonathan is the best candidate to deliver this vision that will ensure the farm becomes a standard bearer for innovative, sustainable farming that sensitively manages the land it sits in.”
A key element will be protecting blanket bog by restoring areas of sphagnum moss, which absorbs and slows down rain water run-off to act as a natural flood barrier.
FARMING NEEDS YOUNG PEOPLE
So few younger people farm in their own right largely because of the capital required to purchase farmland in the first place.
While farm tenancies do offer a more accessible route, they tend to be short-term and this makes investing in a flock or a herd a risky long-term decision.
Andrew Webster, group secretary for the National Farmers’ Union in Bedale, Ripon and Pateley Bridge, said: “It’s difficult for youngsters to get a foothold especially as land prices are so high, but the industry needs enthusiast young people so it’s really good Yorkshire Water has given Jonathan a chance.”
Linda Lloyd, an agricultural lecturer at Askham Bryan College, added: “It is hard for a young person but it is possible, maybe by working part-time to earn enough to build up slowly and diversifying, such as selling your own meat - but you have to really want to do it to succeed.”