Young entrant helps pig farmers solve succession dilemma

New entrant Alice Bacon (centre) has brought fresh ideas to the farm while gaining important knowledge
New entrant Alice Bacon (centre) has brought fresh ideas to the farm while gaining important knowledge

A new share farming agreement on a Welsh heritage pig farm has provided a new 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, Carmarthenshire, 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, the farm'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 'Start to Farm' initiative, which is spearheaded by the Welsh government-funded Farming Connect.

Start to Farm 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.

Katherine 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.

Katherine says: “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."

They approached Alice and she was delighted to be given the opportunity. “It had never felt like work, working with the pigs," Katherine says.

Farming Connect helped to facilitate the agreement, signed in April 2023, which 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 has brought fresh ideas to the business while she has gained important knowledge from Hugh and Katharine.