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
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
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
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,
For further information please contact Jason Clark of Deborah
Clark and Associates Ltd on 01872 276276 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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
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Objective One Partnership Office
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Telephone: 01872 223439