Getting into farming was no easy task

Harry Knott and his partner Grace Barwell started their own farm through Dorset Council’s County Farms Estate system. Getting there, however, was not easy. Harry explains how they landed Burley Road Farm, not far from Salisbury.

While studying at the Royal Agricultural University in Cirencester, a placement with 2021 Gold Cup finalist and share milker Mark Hoskins was a light bulb moment for Harry. First, he realised dairy farming was the path he wanted to pursue and second that owning your own farm is not exclusive to those taking over an existing family business. 

Although from a farming family, the home farm was not available to Harry, so he applied for a Dorset Council farm in 2014. But this first attempt was unsuccessful. “It was very much a learning curve,” Harry explained. “The level and number of applicants was much higher than I anticipated. Farms like these are in such high demand because they are far and few between.”

Not one to give up, Harry secured a 25% share in a milking herd later that year. Although a step in the right direction, it was quite small, and he still had ambitions of owning a larger farm.

Seven years later in 2021, Harry and Grace applied for Dorset Council’s Burley Road Farm. The six-week application process was rigorous, with applicants needing to create a three-year business plan including an in-depth budget. An assessment team also visited applicants in their current role, to assess their experience and suitability.

“I quite like budgeting, so I think that part of the process really played to my strengths,” commented Harry. “The interview, however, was daunting and we thought our nerves would let us down. But in the end, we got it. We were ecstatic! Particularly when we learned there were over 30 other applicants.”

Then came the big move.

“The day we took over, we were grateful to have so many friends help move the 60 cows I owned from my previous farm,” said Harry. “It was a chaotic day, but meant we hit the ground running and could milk the cows straight away.”

This was also because Harry had planned ahead and ensured the infrastructure was in place before the cows. The farm had been empty for two years and fallen into disrepair. Bringing the parlour back into working order and installing new fences were just two of the first jobs.

Since settling into the farm, his mainly Friesian/Jersey cross-bred herd has more than doubled from 60 cows to 150, with a potential target of 200 pending extra land being allocated by the council.

Harry says the biggest challenge in starting the farm was finding one, taking seven years after his initial application for one suiting his ambitions to become available. With the fierce competition he faced, it makes his achievements all the more admirable.