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04.04.06
Fresh Start, the pioneering project launched in Cornwall last year to ensure a sustainable future for farming has proved so successful that it is now being trialled across the South Weste

When a freak ice skating accident in Canada put paid to Ben Bennett's ambitions to work his way around the world, he found himself back on his family's sheep farm in Cornwall, on crutches, and wondering what to do next.

Ben, 25, had been working in Canada as a relief herdsman following a 12-month stint as president of the Student Union at Seale Hayne agricultural college in Devon, from where he had gained an honours degree in agriculture. When he returned to the 94-acre Lower Norton farm at Stoke Climsland near Callington a year ago, Ben knew that the business was at a crossroads.

With his parents Richard and Barbara intending to retire in the near future, CAP reforms well and truly upon them and the farm just breaking even, decisions had to be made about what direction to take the business. As an ambitious and well-trained new entrant to farming, Ben was ideal for Fresh Start.

Launched a year ago, Fresh Start is designed to attract new blood into land-based industries, encourage others to explore new options, and help those who wish to leave to plan their departure carefully. Pioneered by the Cornwall Agricultural Council (CAC), the industry-led initiative was the first project of its type in the UK and was the model for Defra's national Fresh Start framework. It is supported by the Objective One EAGGF Programme and Defra and is delivered in partnership with Business Link and Duchy College.

Since its launch, Fresh Start in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly has registered more than 100 expressions of interest and processed 26 applications from a mixture of new entrants and retiring farmers. Fresh Start provides a matchmaking service for those wishing to enter the industry and those wishing to leave, professional and independent business support, training, and mentors that individuals can draw on for advice and guidance. A package of financial support is expected to be available in the near future.

Fresh Start co-ordinator Charlotte Woodford, who is part of the CAC's Agricultural Development Team, said: "We've been hugely encouraged by the level of interest shown in Fresh Start, especially from new entrants because we know there is a high proportion of very able young people who want to get into farming in Cornwall."

Among those was Ben Bennett. While recuperating from his knee injury at home he began working on a business plan to extend Lower Norton farm and allow him to go into partnership with his parents. At that point the farm included 94 acres, plus 44 acres rented on a rolling farm business tenancy carrying 500 breeding ewes and 100 ewe replacements, together with 40 acres of barley, followed by stubble turnips.

Last May Ben applied to Fresh Start for support in developing his business plan which included renting 72 acres of land nearby and expanding to 800 ewes with 150 replacements. Ben said: "Being a new entrant to farming and expanding an existing business is a tough challenge at the best of times, and CAP reform makes it all the more challenging. Although there is help out there it can be a minefield to navigate. What Fresh Start offers is advice and expertise all in one place and they were able to provide me with my own adviser to take my plans forward. The support I have received has been absolutely superb and to have someone at the end of a telephone to offer impartial advice has been invaluable. Fresh Start will also be providing me with mentoring support as I take the business forward."

Since joining Fresh Start last year Ben has gone into partnership with his parents and secured the tenancy on the nearby farm, giving him a total of 220 acres. He has established a cereal enterprise and is currently lambing 500 ewes, having lambed 500 in the autumn.

Another farmer who has benefited from Fresh Start is Michael Colwell. Michael, 31, and his family have been dairy farmers for more than two generations, with the 93-acre Laity Farm near Redruth being home to their prize-winning herd of 100 full pedigree Jersey cows since 1998. Although Laity had supported the family for many years, the dramatic downturn in milk prices meant that Michael, who jointly owns the business with his mother, started to look for a larger unit to achieve economies of scale. He approached Fresh Start for help. "Fresh Start provided me with my own farm business consultant and this coincided with a tenancy becoming available through Cornwall County Council, which had just purchased the 192-acre Glyn Crest dairy farm near Redruth. The new farm was twice the size of Laity and had better facilities, so it was ideal. With Fresh Start's help I pulled together a detailed business plan, applied for the tenancy and was successful."

That was last summer and since then Michael hasn't looked back. He has already built his herd up to 200 and has moved from year-round calving to spring calving to take advantage of more plentiful grass in March and April. Michael was supported by Fresh Start consultant Mike Houghton, and has now retained Mike's services under Fresh Start's post-investment support scheme, which will meet 70% of the costs for up to two years.

Following Fresh Start's success in Cornwall, which will continue, the initiative is now being rolled out across the rest of the South West.

Launched in January, the South West Fresh Start Initiative is funded by the South West of England Regional Development Agency and managed by Business Link through the South West Rural Enterprise Gateway project. This initiative includes a match making service where potential applicants and holdings are registered, and focuses on helping new entrants to apply for tenancies or formalise joint ventures with existing farmers so its emphasis is slightly different from Fresh Start in Cornwall.

Charlotte Woodford explained: "We've had an excellent response and are already helping two new entrants and talking to two existing farmers about new opportunities."

One of those is Christopher Peachey, an organic beef, sheep and arable farmer who farms 1,250 acres in Gloucester and Wiltshire and is involved in Gloucestershire Farming Friends, a support network set up in 1991. Christopher, 65, is working closely with the South West Fresh Start Initiative to identify a new entrant who can take over the animal side of the farm through a new joint venture and allow him to step back from that part of the business.

He said: "The South West Fresh Start Initiative is important because part of what it does is pair up new entrants with more experienced and established farmers for the benefit of both. I'm seeing two possible candidates in the next few weeks, both identified by Fresh Start, and if all goes well I'll be looking to start a new joint venture with one of them."

Hugh Warmington, a beef, sheep and arable farmer who farms 800 acres near Taunton in Somerset, is also working with the South West Fresh Start Initiative. Hugh has been working on an idea to develop a farm shop on his land that would be an outlet for young farmers and new entrants to sell their produce, and has been talking to Fresh Start about identifying local farmers that might be interested.

With several redundant buildings on his land it could also act as a rural 'hub' where small and new land-based businesses could share their experience and learn from each other, and even pool labour, skills and equipment.

Hugh said: "I'm passionate about British farming and I have a very strong view that there are really able people out there who need to be helped and encouraged into the industry. But unless we help them some other industry is going to grab them and that will be our loss. The challenge is how you identify them and what support do you provide? There's no way we can compete with the volumes of Brazilian beef or New Zealand lamb or Canadian grain, but what we can do is look at how we can do things differently. Fresh Start takes just that approach. It aims to nurture new talent and encourage farmers to look at new ways of working and I hope that the pilot South West scheme is a success. My own idea is still at concept stage and would depend on securing funding, but I think it could be a way of adding real value by supporting youngsters who are new to the industry."

If you'd like to find out more about the South West Fresh Start Initiative please contact your local Business Link. For more information about Fresh Start in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly contact Charlotte Woodford on 01872 322810, email charlotte.woodford@cornwallenterprise.co.uk.

For further information please contact Jason Clark of Deborah Clark and Associates Ltd on 01872 276276 or email: jason@dclark.co.uk.

The Objective One Programme for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly has invested in the Fresh Start Project through the European Agricultural Guidance and Guarantee Fund (EAGGF).

Anyone considering a new horticulture, food and land based industries project is advised to speak with Martin Butler, at Government Office South West on 01752 635015 before commencing development as there are now only limited funds available due to the successful uptake of funding by the agricultural sector in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

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Editor's notes:

About the Cornwall Agricultural Council
The Cornwall Agricultural Council was established in 1989 and its members are drawn from a broad cross-section of the rural economy. Its aim is to transform Cornwall into the UK's exemplar agri-food 'centre of excellence' characterised by innovation, added-value, competitive advantage and environmental sustainability.

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Clare Morgan
Media Relations Manager
Objective One Partnership Office
Castle House
Pydar Street
Truro TR1 2UD
Mobile: 07973 813647
Telephone: 01872 223439

cmorgan@cornwall.gov.uk

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