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Paul & Madeleine Crawley

Courthill Farm, West Sussex

A WEEK-long taster course at the local agricultural college during secondary school was enough proof for Paul Crawley to realise he wanted to be a farmer.

Following graduation in agriculture at Wye College, he returned from a year working in New Zealand with little money and a student loan to repay. Keen to replicate the progressive farming structures he had witnessed abroad, he secured a job as a farm manager on an estate in Sussex. Here, he was given the challenge to farm organically and return the same rent as the other farming tenants. Succeeding, the owner offered him more land to farm for him and eventually he secured a contract farming agreement with the owner.

Using a personal loan, which has since been repaid, he bought 36 of his own dairy cows which were leased to the owner and farmed alongside the 250-cow dairy farm for seven years.

After meeting wife Madeleine, who was a vet, the pair applied for seven tenancies over a five-year period and, in 2013, were offered a National Trust farm tenancy comprising 267 hectares (660 acres) on the South Downs. They surrendered their dairy contract farming agreement back to the estate owner and arrived on-farm in 2014 with seven Beef Shorthorn cows, two collie dogs and an array of farm machinery.

The Crawleys operate a mixed organic farm, growing organic spring barley in addition to a 75-strong suckler herd and 450-ewe Lleyn flock.

They have also entered into a Higher Level Stewardship system to achieve environmental objectives and as a form of risk management against falling commodity prices.