Young couple realise dream of becoming tenant farmers
A YOUNG couple's dream of their own farm in North Devon is about to come true.
It has taken years of saving and two applications to Devon County Council for the kind of tenancy sought by dozens of would-be farmers.
In the New Year Ian and Natasha Pugsley will take over 85-acre Lower Farm at High Bickington and make a new life for themselves and their three children.
And they mean business rather than just seeking a lifestyle choice, Ian said after they negotiated the interview panel of Devon's Farm Estates committee.
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"My idea is commercial, rearing calves, early season lambing and taking in some calves for finishing.
"We also plan to sell boxed meat at some stage in the future.
"In a way it is a lifestyle choice, but that's not the main reason. I see farming as a business.
"Agriculture is moving into a time when there's going to be a demand for food production.
"We think there's a bright future for a commercial farm."
They have been hoping and planning for such an opportunity since they left Seale Hayne College, now part of Plymouth University.
That is where the couple met, Natasha specialising in animal health with a degree in Animal Science and Ian studying Agricultural and Estate Management.
They were among the last group to pass through Seal Hayne before the campus closed down and courses were transferred to Plymouth and Exmouth.
Natasha said her parents had rented land in Norfolk and she wanted to take her farming interest further.
"My course was 70 per cent about farm animals, although we did do exotic animals too.
"As soon as we left university we bought some land and our own cattle and sheep, as well as Ian farming with his parents."
They applied to the county council for a tenancy, including Lower Farm, soon afterwards, but were not chosen in that round of interviews.
Since then Natasha has worked with the county's trading standards department in animal health and their first baby, Daisy, was born, followed by Freddie and now their new baby, Tilly.
Meanwhile Ian has continued farming livestock on rented land and also worked for feed manufacturer BOCM.
They managed to buy their own house, and also to save enough to invest in stock and machinery for a new farm, hoping they would be offered a tenancy.
At last they have been successful.
Although both their families have supported their dream, Natasha said getting this far has been down to their own determination.
"We've had help on the way, and experience, but everything we've done has been on our own," she said.
"I'd like to go further. We hope to make a great success of it, to sell boxed meat and eventually move onto a bigger farm and have more stock."
Ian said they are excited at their new venture.
"A lot of people applied and it's nice to get a tenancy," he said.
"It's about knowing if your farming idea fits with the council's criteria and strikes the right chord with what the council is looking for.
"The county has a fairly diverse range of farms, such as our neighbours who make cider on theirs.
"I've already got a flock of 120 ewes and will be lambing just after Christmas and I'm also hoping to find some extra land near the farm.
"The main thing is we're not going there with debts, because I've saved enough to stock the farm and have already bought some machinery.
"I don't claim to be an expert but I didn't want to go in needing extra borrowing.
"Now we're really looking forward to it."