A CONSERVATIVE estimate of the value of tourism to Farm Stay (formerly Farm Holiday Bureau) members puts turnover at more than 40m a year. Not bad for an organisation that grew out of 23 local groups who joined together to market farm holidays.

They were helped to do so by ADAS, RASE, NTBs and farmers weekly and the Farm Holiday Bureau was formed in 1983. Six years later it converted to a farmer-owned co-operative and, in 2000, the name was changed to Farm Stay.

Its purpose was – and is – to encourage and assist working farmers to broaden their income base by diversifying into ancillary tourism, so helping keep agriculture alive in the UK.

Membership offers marketing and sales support, a strong brand image, inspections and grading to ensure quality, and the strength and support of members who meet in local groups, and twice a year nationally.

“All Farm Stay properties are farmer-owned and run,” explains its chief executive Nigel Embry. “Currently we have an unrivalled network of more than 1100 properties spanning the length and breadth of the British Isles.

“The achievable potential is at least double current turnover of 40m, if only we can make all-year-round business a reality for even the most remote locations,” says Mr Embry.

“After all, we are not just selling holidays; we offer travellers farmyard security; private yet accessible and often spectacular locations; wonderful buildings in beautiful working countryside; a true national network for travellers; fresh farm produce; and comfort with individuality and genuine personal care.”

Farm Stay was presented with the Tourism Society”s Annual Award “in recognition of the exceptional contribution made to the development of tourism in the UK” in 2001.

This was followed in 2002 by the ultimate tourism industry accolade – a Tourism Catey – presented by Caterer & Hotelkeeper magazine “for bringing farm tourism to the forefront of high quality tourism in the country”.

Today, its website is drawing a hit a minute. “The development of an on-line availability and on-line booking system are the next major milestones on our route to becoming a household name to rival that of Gites de France across the Channel,” says Mr Embry.

He’s looking forward to the AGM, conference and celebrations in Malvern next week which run from Nov 21-23. No doubt the toast there will be “Happy Birthday – here’s to another 21 years!”

To contact Farm Stay, telephone 02476 696909 or see www.farmstayuk.co.uk