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Council farms essential to recovery of industry.

Byline: Sarah Probert Rural Affairs Reporter

Constant fears that agriculture is on its knees has failed to stop dozens of would-be farmers queuing up for land in Staffordshire to set up businesses and join what they believe is an attractive industry.

Resolute hopefuls, undeterred by a depressed dairy market, outbreaks of TB in cattle and the looming reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, are applying for council-owned plots to start their own farming businesses, a Government minister has said.

But more land for tenant farmers must be made available if the industry is to fully recover, Lord Whitty, Minister for Food and Farming, told the Birmingham Post. On a visit to Yarlet Estate in Whitgreave, Staffordshire, which is owned by the county council, Lord Whitty urged local authorities to retain rural estates to help potential farmers set up businesses.

Staffordshire County Council lets 130 farms on the 8,762 acre site and is one of 26 local authorities retaining their rural estates, managing 170,500 acres in total. Lord Whitty said despite the local authority making a profit from the estate, many other councils had either sold their estate once used by tenant farmers or had scaled down the amount of land they made available.

'In Staffordshire they have made a significant profit, contributing to the general finances of the county. These rural estates are an asset and yet they are a diminishing part of agriculture.

'We would ask councils to look at this so they can at least decelerate the decline and allow people to come into farming. To maintain tenant farming estates is of economic and social importance,' he said.

A recent report by the Tenancy Reform Industry Group to the Government emphasised the importance of county farms in offering a route into the industry for those who might not otherwise pursue a farming career.

'I think they are important in two senses, they provide entry to farming, which is not really available from the private sector any more and without substantial funds it is difficult to get a reasonable tenancy or buy land to start in farming,' said Lord Whitty.

'The county farms allow people to do that on a relatively small scale and it allows you to move from something very small to something larger and work through the system. 'It is also interesting that there is a surplus demand for and that more people want to go into farming than area able to.'

Farming on the Staffordshire estate is predominantly in the dairy sector.

The development of the county smallholdings began in 1908 with 2,339 acres. It has increased in size over time with the introduction of various acts of parliament placing a duty on county councils to provide opportunities for new entrants to farm. A range of different sized holdings are maintained to allow and encourage progression from starter farms generally through 40-60 acres to larger holdings up to 130 acres. Despite the current climate eight farms were keenly sought and re-let to new entrants and those moving to larger farms during 2003 on the estate. Since September 1995, 37 equipped farms have been let to new entrants -many have already moved on and farms re-let again. In addition a further 41 farms have been let under Farm Business Tenancy Agreements to existing tenants who have moved on to larger farms or taken significant amounts of extra ground within the estate.

Applications for plots vary, but a recent farm attracted 26 requests and 12 applications.

Generally for those advertised on the open market four applicants are short listed for interview.

CAPTION(S):

Farmer Andrew Mosley (left) with Lord Whittey, David Kidney, MP for Stafford, and Sandra Hambleton ,Staffordshire County Council cabinet member for property
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jan 27, 2004
Words:621
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