> Making any sort of margin in farming is far from easy and the arable sector must be one of the most challenging, especially for new entrants but, it still achievable, as Aberdeenshire producers, Harriet Ross and Ben Lowe, have discovered.

Speaking at Arable Scotland's New Entrants webinar, the couple explained how they took over the 380-acre Newseat of Dumbreck, just outside Udny, in a three-year SLDT from the Aberdeen Endowment Trust, after many years gathering cash, experience and knowledge.

And, to reduce the risks, both kept on their full-time employment positions – Harriet is a BASIS-qualified farm consultant with Strutt and Parker, while Ben, who is not from a farming background, is an agronomist with Agrovista.

Over the past year, not only have they harvested (standing crop was bought just before harvest last year) and sown winter wheat, oilseed rape, winter oats and spring barley with assistance from contractors, they've also housed cattle during the winter and are contract rearing pigs on a six-week bed and breakfast programme in the farm's former dairy buildings.

The livestock is extra work but they also generate much needed cash funds between sowing and harvest. And, they provide vital dung to bolster soil fertility. In addition, a further 90 acres of grass is grown for a neighbouring anaerobic digester to improve the farm’s rotation and increase biodiversity.

It has, though, taken a good 10 years plus of hard graft to build up savings, numerous sleepless nights filling out forms and disappointment when they discovered they missed out on previous farms, to achieve their end goal of running their own farm.

"The sheep enterprise was run separately before Harriet and myself met, this was run with myself and a college friend at the time," said Ben. "Initially, we kept a few sheep on 'rented' grazing, whereby we would fence the fields in return for an 11-month lease on somewhat poor grass, to get us started.

"We started off buying 40 draft ewes, which we tupped and sold the resultant progeny as boxed lamb, and gradually built that up to 120 ewes, before we eventually got a farm. But even that was after putting in a bid on at least six or seven different contract, share and lease farming options over the years," he added.

While Harriet was born and brought up on her parents' Aberdeenshire arable farm some five miles away, Ben is new to farming, although as a teenager he was always keen to help out with tractor work on a farm in East Lothian.

"Arable farming is what we have both always been interested in. The sheep were a way of getting into farming initially, which together with the house we shared and the knowledge gained over the years through my job and Harriet's, enabled us to get where we are today.

"Getting a foot in the door is the biggest problem getting into farming, because I do think there is a future in cropping although you need to have some sort of intensive livestock, either pigs or poultry, to get the cash flow. They also help to reduce your reliance on artificial fertilisers."

They are also well aware they have a long way to go yet to get their ideal farm, especially when the lease is only for three years, but the hope is, it will be extended. They are, nevertheless, giving it their best shot and make no bones about sharing machinery and labour with Harriet's parents to reduce costs of production, while she assists with the farm books in return.

Contractors are used for sowing and crop spraying. All other machinery work done on their farm and Harriet's parents' 500-acre unit is done by the couple. In fact, the only machinery actually owned by Ben and Harriet is a forklift.

Ben said: “We’re in a great position of being able to start at the beginning. We’re still learning about the land, and the Resilient and Ready Programme with LEAF and Corteva will be an action-packed couple of years where we’ll be learning about ourselves and our farm as well as meeting like-minded farmers to share our experiences.”

Harriet said: “We’re just starting our farming journey and this could help shape our business to be resilient and ready for the future. We want to be ahead of the curve and to promote a sustainable farming system.”

In contrast to many arable farmers up and down the country who have struggled with the weather, the couple has also been fortunate to have endured slightly better conditions for their growing crops, and at present yields are looking reasonable. They are, though, in the process of looking to buy a second hand grain drier – just in case !

On the other side of the equation, former NFUS commercial and operations director, Alison Milne, part owner of Crafty Maltsters, based at Demperston Farm, Auchtermuchty, with her husband, Daniel and father in law, Norman, encouraged new entrants to look to ventures where there is the possibility of adding value. She also advised the next generation of farmers to get as much experience and knowledge of the industry as possible and use networks previously relied upon.

"There is a common perception that malt is nothing more than a commodity, but we believe it holds a greater potential, every grain has the power to tell a story in terms of the exciting flavours from the variety, soil and growing conditions.

"Arable farmers have been driven towards maximising yields and in doing so, much of the individual flavours from different varieties have been lost, but there is a definite place for these new flavours."

She added that over the past couple of years the family has been working closely with the International Barley Hub and the James Hutton Institute and this year is growing two bere barleys and two Heritage varieties for malting trials on their farm.

More impressive is the fact that over the past nine months they have received enquiries from over 40 distilleries and breweries, and are now selling malt to others both at home and abroad