19 October 2001

BUSINESSLINK, BUSINESSSAVED

For many farming families

who have diversified into

tourist enterprises, closure

during the foot-and-mouth

crisis has had devastating

consequences for their

businesses. Liz Boynton

talked to a couple who, by

using some of the aid

available, hope they have

re-opened to a brighter future

JANET and David Legge of Shortwood Farm near Bromyard, Herefords, run a 97ha (240-acre) organic farm, open to the public seven days a week from Easter to October. As a working farm with 70 dairy cattle, 400 free-range hens, pigs, goats and sheep, the farm was awarded full organic status in May last year.

The closure of their tourist attraction due to F&M precautions, meant that they have missed out on some of the busiest times in the holiday calendar and the farm shop, an important link in marketing their organic produce, has also been unavailable to the public.

&#42 Bright future

But with restrictions now lifted, and help from Business Link with a government Recovery Grant, the farm has re-opened to visitors and faces a brighter future.

The Herefordshire business faced predictable problems during their organic conversion period with reduced production but still conventional prices. However, the unexpected closure of the farm dealt an extra blow.

"We thought about going organic for many years," David says. "About four years ago we eventually took the decision. The prices looked attractive – but you dont do organic for the price alone. Its a way of farming that weve always wanted to do, but until you know youll get a just return for it, you hesitate."

Because of the farm closure the couple have had to look for other outlets for their produce.

"In November last year our son took over a butchers shop in Bromyard where he did his training," Janet explains. "Hes got a Soil Association organic licence there and so hes been able to sell our vegetables, eggs and meat from the shop."

It is the fact that Shortwood Farm has suffered a significant reduction in turnover due to the F&M crisis that has enabled Janet and David Legge to be eligible for money under the Rural Recovery Grant Scheme.

Administered by Advantage West Midlands, rural businesses across Herefords, Shrops, Staffs and Worcs have already benefited by up to £2m from the fund. Grants between £5000 and £15,000 are still available for a range of rural businesses.

"We were so lucky. The first thing we knew about the grant was through a phone call from our vicar. He had heard about it from the agricultural chaplain, Nick Read," Janet explains.

"On the same day we had a call from Business Link. We vaguely knew our local agent as he had been out to the farm attraction a couple of times and he said he would send us a grant application form.

&#42 First round

"With his help we got in on the first round of the applications. Business Link was very helpful. At the time we were feeling so down – if some form had come through the post, wed have looked at it and thought what does that mean? Its jargon. Wed have put it on one side and thought Ill look at that again later. And then wed have forgotten about it.

"Basically the money is allocated for things like marketing – which has covered the cost of our advertising this summer and setting up a website. We also had some signs made for the end of the drive, extra picnic tables and new equipment for improving the play area."

Some of the money will be spent on training – such as food hygiene and first aid refresher courses.

"We belong to a group of tourist attractions and two years ago they put in a bid for 5b money – as individual members of the group we applied with them. That was for a 47% grant towards a new play-barn. If the weather isnt very good the children can be inside and still enjoy the activities."

David adds: "Its the sort of thing wed like to expand in time – we built the barn high enough so that we can put in an extra floor. Were just waiting for a good year."

The couple have been grateful for the help that they received from Business Link and believe that this has allowed them to regenerate their farm and tourist business.

Janet concludes: "I often say to people on the farm tour how things have changed over the last 60 years. Then the most important room in the farmhouse was the pantry – now the most important room in the farmhouse is the office."

Organic farmers Janet and David Legge have built a play-barn for young visitors.