28 Jun

Mary Talbot-Rosevear on Future Proofing Devon’s Family Farms

Today in the Western Morning News DR Director Mary Talbot-Rosevear discusses the critical issue of future proofing family farming in Devon and the South West. Mary cites  examples of family farms that the DR Company have supported to diversify or expand in order to secure a future for the next generation. Below is the text of the article. To read more about the examples used go to http://drcompany.co.uk/south-devon-coastal-lag-success-stories/ and http://drcompany.co.uk/rural-wedding-venue-uses-funds-from-gdleaf/ 

Future Proofing Devon’s Family Farms
Planning for the future to ensure the family farm can be a viable and profitable business for this and the next generation is a key area of concern for many farming families. With changes in farming techniques, technologies, skillsets and earnings, there are a host of reasons behind some family farms being sold or disbanded. How can these businesses plan in changing times to provide this and future generations with the incentive to farm?

The first challenge is to ensure the family farm is a profitable business in the here and now. It is frequently the case that the type or quantity of farming that was once sustainable now needs to be supplemented either by diversification, improved methods, increased productivity or simply a complete change of tack. Farmers have in recent years proved themselves adept at changing with the times and Devon has many glowing examples of entrepreneurial success and forward thinking ingenuity. Two examples that the DR Company have supported, are Hunts Cider and Ashridge Court Farm. Hunts Cider is run by brother and sister Richard and Annette Hunt who have turned their generations old farm-based small cider making business into a well-known and award winning brand. Ashridge Court, a farm purchased recently by two generations of one family, expanded the diversification side of the business into a rural and bespoke venue for weddings and events by converting their medieval barn.

Diversification is one way of securing a healthy business for the current and future generations of a family farm, but what if the family want to remain focused within the agricultural sector? Government schemes, funding and private support is available to strengthen and improve their business. From Countryside Stewardship to funds such as the Countryside Productivity Small Grants Scheme, farmers are aware of and using investment channels. This doesn’t come without its challenges: increasingly anyone looking to apply for funding of any sort need to do so using online methods, resulting in the need for fast broadband, IT skills and compliance with regulations. Despite this, the current generation of farmers are generally embracing the contemporary methods for building successful agricultural businesses.

Once a family farm is successfully producing earnings for the current generation, the next generation can and should be considered. Attracting young people into a career in farming is a constant challenge in a world that offers many other options to those either born or not born into farming. How can we attract the next generation into agriculture? A successful and profitable business which embraces change, encourages ideas from the next generation, with fair remuneration is a good and persuasive start. Agricultural Colleges are offering more and more breadth to their courses, opening up agriculture as a career which can include the application of additional skills including finance, engineering, and marketing to name but a few.

A working example of this can be seen in R&P Farming where the family have been running a successful arable farm near Dawlish for over 20 years. Brothers Matt and Rob Cotton, both agricultural college graduates, transitioned straight from education into the family business. Using their skills they realised that mixed farming would offer increased resilience and better productivity, so the brothers started rearing cattle alongside the already established arable business. With help from some funding from the South Devon Coastal Local Action Group, a locally managed EU funding programme, they bought new equipment to achieve their goals for the family farm.

On his Dartmoor beef and arable farm, Julian Courtier is another farmer with two sons keen to work as part of the family farm. Needing to be assured of profitable careers if they did so, Julian and his family decided, in 2016, to make a big investment into the business he has farmed since 1957. Expanding his beef and arable farm into dairy was a major undertaking, but one which he undertook to ensure employment for his children and a bright future for the business. Having secured investment for the farm privately, Julian also secured part funding from the Greater Dartmoor LEAF programme, another locally managed EU funding programme, to help him develop an energy efficient, contemporary dairy farm alongside his existing mixed farm and B&B business. Updating the farm and expanding it has meant Julian’s sons have felt included in the farm’s future and enthused to be a part of a modernised and forward-thinking business.

Keeping the family in a ‘family’ farm is no simple prospect for the modern generation, but as we can see there are those who have found ways to achieve it. Attracting the next generation to agriculture is vital and can be achieved by having strong businesses, good family communication and planning, as well as wide ranging, relevant education. Access to funding and support for farmers to enable them to expand, develop and diversify their farms is vital. Imperative is that we encourage enthusiasm, enable decision making and entrepreneurial spirit and foster a passion for agriculture.

Visit the DR website to read in detail about the examples mentioned in this article http://drcompany.co.uk/south-devon-coastal-lag-success-stories/

By Mary Talbot- Rosevear
Director of the DR Company and member of the Small Farms Association and a partner in the family accountancy and legal practice based in South Devon

04 Jun

Rural Wedding Venue uses Funds from GDLEAF


Dartmoor Wedding Venue Ashridge Court celebrates and supports Rural Devon at its best with the help of GDLEAF funding

Couples who choose Ashridge Court Farm on the edge of Dartmoor for their wedding reception have options very few venues can offer. Whether it’s riding on horseback from a country church to the wedding breakfast, exclusive access to a 500 year old renovated barn, or photos in the sustainably managed wild woodland on site there is something at Ashridge for every couple who has an affinity for rural Devon at its best.

Five years ago mother and daughter team Cat Richards-Kastelic and Carolyn Richards decided to diversify their family farm by converting their medieval cattle barn into a rustic venue for weddings and events. Sensitive to its history and original architecture, they ensured that the character and essence of the barn remained while giving it some new Ashridge-style features. The main area of the Great Barn has split level flooring and a dance floor, beyond which is a separate quiet room complete with sofas and armchairs for cosy conversations away from the main music and event. At the other end of the barn lie the accessible toilets that are so striking they have been included in bridal couples’ official wedding photos. Hanging from the ceiling are metal chandeliers created by the family from the hoops of barrels found on the farm. Every nook and cranny of this beautiful venue is steeped in history and individualism.

This individualism is carried through to the total autonomy given to clients over who they hire in for catering, entertainment, even furniture. Ashridge can make recommendations for every part of a wedding or event, but they are as happy to let the clients choose and arrange their way to whatever constitutes their perfect day without interference or bias towards specific suppliers. Not only does this allow for bespoke weddings and events, it also encourages investment back into the local economy, as Cat explains,

“We aim to host 15 weddings a year in the Ashridge Great Barn, we have really enjoyed meeting the amazing array of talented suppliers here in the South West and look forward to recommending them to couples in the future. We also enjoyed organising our very successful Christmas Fayre, where we were delighted to showcase local small businesses. We are excited to build on this experience by also putting on a Country Fair in the summer when we will also be holding a dog show to raise money for the Guide Dogs. Running a broad range of private and public events at the Ashridge Great Barn will allow us to share our beautiful venue and setting with the local community as well as those from further ‘up country’!”

The wedding party or event guests can stay at a number of hotels, B&Bs and holiday chalets within easy reach of the venue and, on site ready for next season, Ashridge are building a honeymoon cottage within walking distance of the Great Barn. Three churches serve the parish within a short drive or a country walk from Ashridge. How many wedding’s have invitations that might include the words ‘bring wellies for the walk from the church to the reception’? The venue is open 9 months of the year between April and December, as bad weather would make access to Ashridge unreliable, but in good weather makes for an idyllic peaceful and rural escape.

There are plenty of opportunities for stunning photos from the walled kitchen garden, to the rolling Dartmoor landscape, the large lakes, the fields, the woodland and the Great Barn itself this is a photographers dream. There is even a peacock, and a gaggle of Canada geese to accompany the many sheep and cattle in the fields around the farm. There is an onsite large catering kitchen within a few metres of the barn, and space to the side of the Great Barn complete with fire pit and room for hogroasts and bbqs.

The deliberately rustic feel to Ashridge has been created through hard work, careful planning and financial and time commitment. While the barn conversion was paid for privately local support and funding also helped the business get off the ground. The DR Company based in Okehampton provided business support and helped them access funding via a LEADER grant.

“ We are so excited to be able to offer this venue to people who love the outdoors and rural Devon. It has been a long process getting change of use and planning permission, sympathetically renovating the barn and deciding what was important to us to be able to provide for our clients. We have put a lot of thought, and money, into getting this venue right. “ explains Cat. “We were very lucky to be able to successfully apply for some funding to help us do the work we needed to. I don’t know what we would have done without the help of the DR Company who helped us with business planning and the funding application for a Greater Dartmoor LEAF grant. It helped turn our ideas into reality and enabled us to turn a run down barn into a really special venue that we are incredibly proud of.”

This family business is a shining example of how a rural business can both be supported by and at the same time itself support the local economy. By working with Devon based businesses they have managed to gain and give support, to create a sustainable, diversified family business that can provide clients with a celebration of the very best rural Devon can offer.

GDLEAF (The Greater Dartmoor Local Enterprise Action Fund) is now closed to applications, but the DR Company can help you find and apply to other relevant funding programmes. Contact the office via admin@drcompany.co.uk or visit the main website www.drcompany.co.uk  

To find out more about Ashridge Court and to book the venue visit www.ashridge-court.co.uk   or ring 01837 352025.