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farming: 'Some need all the help we can give to help them survive'.

CUMBRIA Farmer Network (Rural Futures) has established itself in less than two years with membership already well over the target and funding reserves setting the foundation for economic security.

Farmers gave their financial backing in January 2006 to take over in the summer of that year the role established by Cumbria's Rural Futures, a project of Voluntary Action Cumbria, to help them meet change and secure their own futures as well as that of rural Cumbria.

And at the company's third annual meeting at Threlkeld, near Keswick, company secretary Paul Harper reported a membership rise from 320 at the end of August 2006 to 455 in 12 months - a 42% rise on the previous period and well over its original membership targets.

During the non-profit making company's first full 12 months of trading to the end of August 2007, it has had a surplus of pounds 41,700, which is pounds 6,600 less than the grant aid towards administration costs received during that period.

Some pounds 130,000 of funding was generated for projects during the trading year to benefit farmers in the county.

Mr Harper, who congratulated the membership on building such a company run by farmers, reported: "I still have to pinch myself when I think how quickly the company has developed a good reputation with funding agencies as being able to manage and deliver projects that are closely linked to members' needs.

"This shows that farmers are capable of working together and will get the support of the public sector, if they deliver to a high standard.

"The policy on generating a surplus this year, despite being a not-for-profit company has been deliberate.

The directors and I have taken the view that we need to generate a surplus in the early years of trading to generate reserves that can be used in future to cover cash flow deficits and invest in new activities that have the potential to generate a net income because it is unlikely that all administration costs will be able to be met from income and private sponsorship."

He estimates the reserves need to be about pounds 50,000 to manage cash flow as many projects are funded retrospectively.

Mr Harper said: "I am confident that the company can grow to become sustainable without grant aid to cover core administration costs.

"To achieve this, we need farmer members to continue to get involved and help us to help them. Some sectors are facing severe problems and will need all the help we and others can give to them to help them survive."

The new board of directors elected at the annual meeting were: Eden, John Thirlwall and Eileen Simpson; Allerdale, Ken Pears and Judith Emmott; Carlisle, Claire Scott and Thomas Whiteford; South Lakeland, Steve Marsden and Alex Smith; Copeland, William Rawling and Richard Maxwe ll.

Cumbria Farmer Network has had financial support from the Northern Rock Foundation, Cumbria Community Foundation, Hadfield Trust, Carrs Billington, the University of Cumbria and other local sponsors.

It has worked with partner organisations and has managed several funded projects. Among activities during the year, Cumbria Farmer Network has:

Organised 33 mainly technical farm demonstrations and workshops;

Made two collections amounting to 125 tonnes for the Farm Plastic Recycling Scheme, which just broke even despite a grant of almost pounds 10,000. Cost effective negotiations have been made with Solway Recycling for this year's scheme, which has no membership restrictions;

Held 15 farm demonstrations in a joint project with Cumbria Farm Link in a catchment- sensitive farming project to help farmers in west and south Cumbria minimise fertiliser costs and reduce diffuse pollution;

Run a farm assistants' scheme until last July and start a new scheme for 2007-08

Started the Hills Alive project with farmers in Cumbria, Northumberland and the Peak District to learn how other areas are facing the future.
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jan 26, 2008
Words:642
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