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07.05.03
Research indicates strong correlation between farm profits and training

There is a strong correlation between the level of a farmer's profits and the level of further education and training undertaken, reports a market research survey published this week.

One of the most comprehensive research studies into the social and economic structure of farming and land ownership in Cornwall has just been commissioned by a newly funded Objective One initiative - Rural Progress. PFA Research undertook the research in conjunction with Duchy College and the Centre for Rural Research at Exeter University.

The research reports those respondents who had undertaken further education beyond leaving school were more business focused, independently minded and were more likely to be working in profitable farm businesses. They were also actively involved in local community or farming groups and associations.

The objective of the research was to improve the understanding of issues facing land based businesses. Rural Progress will now be able to respond with funding initiatives to address the challenges that prevent many farmers from developing their existing skills and improving the performance of their businesses.

Martin Stanbury, Chairman of the Rural Progress steering group, said, "The industry recognised, some time ago, that there were barriers that prevented farmers and others in land based businesses accessing existing training opportunities. Representatives from across the agricultural industry put together a bid for Objective One funding to address this issue. Rural Progress has now been set up and will be officially launched at the Royal Cornwall Show."

Persuading farmers to undertake training may prove more difficult as less than half those interviewed said they thought they had further training needs. Most of these farmers were interested in improving their business or IT skills, however 20% of them expressed an interest in learning or developing skills they could use off the farm. One of the largest barriers to training is a farmer actually finding the time to leave the farm - only 56% of the research sample employed 1 or more people. Rural Progress hope to overcome this problem by providing funding for additional help on the farm to enable farmers to attend training courses.

Rural Progress Manager Paul Charlton said, "The research indicates a lot of farmers are looking to exploit business opportunities off the farm to supplement existing income. In response to this we are setting up a scheme to fund new training and skills development for off farm work. If many farmers look at the broad range of skills they currently have such as using a chainsaw or mobile plant machinery or even doing the farm accounts these are all skills that could be used to their advantage off the farm."

Even though questions about diversification caused the most reproach and negative reaction to the researchers over half said they had diversified away from their core farming activity and 25% of these respondents said it had been in the past five years. Many commented it had enabled them to stay in farming or provided a valuable second income for a spouse or partner.

Assessing the research findings by economic performance and the key challenges to their business, respondents fell principally into three groups. The traditional smaller Cornish farms that are owner run or tenanted are facing the biggest challenges in terms of profitability and were least optimistic about the future of farming. The other two farming groups that emerged were more positive about the future. These included larger farms and a newly emerging group the study referred to as 'chosen returnees'. They were either siblings with a farming background who initially decided to follow a different career path and have now chosen to return to the family farm or non-farming people who have identified business opportunities and are drawn to farming because of the way of life.

Rural Progress Manager Paul Charlton commented, "It was really these two farming groups who were more innovative in their business approach. They viewed their own skills and the business opportunities offered by their farms in a more positive way. The majority said they were in farming because it was a way of life - what we want Rural Progress to do is to help Cornish farmers improve their businesses and their way of life."

Anthony Gibson from the NFU will officially launch Rural Progress at the Royal Cornwall Show on Thursday 5th June at 9.00am.

More information can be obtained from Paul Charlton on 01579 372112.

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Editor's notes:

Rural Progress is a new Objective One funded scheme to facilitate the implementation of new technology and provide new skills to land based businesses, individuals, groups and organisations. These beneficiaries need to be located within Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly and associated with farming, horticulture, forestry or supply services to these businesses

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Jason Clark
Communications Manager
Objective One Partnership Office
Castle House
Pydar Street
Truro TR1 2UD
Tel: 01872 241379
Fax: 01872 241388
jason@dclark.co.uk

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