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

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