23 August 2002

Catering forms farm backbone

Diversification plays a key

role at Burton Farm,

especially at this time of

year. John Burns reports

ANNE Rossiters farm-based accommodation and catering business at Burton Farm, Galmpton, south Devon, has come a long way in the 21 years since the newly-wed Rossiters moved to the derelict farmhouse.

"The farm business paid for a new roof, electricity, plumbing and renovation of some of the rooms," Mrs Rossiter recalls. "But to pay for doing up the rest I started offering bed-and-breakfast even though we had very few facilities."

By now they were buying the farm and their bank felt unable to lend any more to renovate the house. So Mrs Rossiter persuaded the bank manager to loan her the capital to extend the house and develop her business.

"Since that day its been this business, not the farm, which has provided the main income for the family, leaving any farm profit to be re-invested in developing that side of the business.

"Surely its wrong that a big farm like this cannot provide for normal family needs as well as its own development," she says. Even today, although her turnover is only 20% to 25% of the farms, she makes five times as much profit.

With that first bank loan Mrs Rossiter built a new kitchen and bathroom and added five bedrooms. "Id always offered evening meals with the B&B and four years ago we added a conservatory restaurant."

The energy and thought Mrs Rossiter puts into her business should not be underestimated. She cooks breakfast every morning and dinner every evening, as well as dealing with all the administration, staff recruitment, property maintenance and development planning.

She employs three full-time staff, three permanent part-timers and up to 10 seasonal part-timers. There is also one full-time person doing maintenance work and gardening.

As well as some £30,000/year going into the local economy through staff wages, her business further benefits it through her insistence on buying local food.

While regional newspapers regularly report that this year the tourism industry is booming, Mrs Rossiter is having to work hard to keep the rooms occupied.

Fortunately, her self-catering units are experiencing better demand and this year may turn out to be one of the best yet. "There is a big trend to self-catering instead of B&B."

The restaurant is performing even better. "That looks to be our real growth area. We are holding more weddings and private parties and the accommodation works well for these events. We have room for up to 39 people, plus the two self-catering cottages."

With the restaurant showing most promise for growth, the next investment is likely to be a conservatory on the front of the house to serve as a reception lounge plus a catering kitchen. Together they may cost £70,000.

Also demanding attention are the traditional buildings adjacent to the house, which are falling down. But it could cost up to £400,000 to convert them to self-catering units, which are in demand locally.

A major concern is the level of business rates. This year a routine four-yearly rates review of Mrs Rossiters business resulted in a rateable value increase of 50% to £8600/year.

Mrs Rossiter fears it could rise to £12,000 next year because of the restaurant. The actual rates paid are currently 43.7% of the rateable value. On top of this is the council tax of £630 for the part of the farmhouse used privately, £840 for a three-bed, self-catering cottage and £735 for a tiny two-bed one.

The cottages are let for less than 20 weeks/year, otherwise they would be liable for business rates of about £1800/cottage. "It is just not cost-effective. The authorities are always keen to see you expand a business and help the local economy, but the way they are going it makes you wonder whether it will be worth all the effort and risk."

Meanwhile, farm work continues. Over the past six weeks Mr Rossiter has been busy selling rams privately at £350-450/head according to breeding value.

A total of 85 Suffolk ewes have been inseminated recently with semen from Sire Reference Scheme rams, and the rest went to natural service. The Poll Dorset flock is due to lamb in mid-September.

About 25 cows have calved and are now on a mixer-wagon ration of grass and wholecrop cereal silages plus a balancer concentrate, to ensure peak yields. Mr Rossiter is expecting at least 18.5p/litre for August milk sold through Milk Link. &#42

FARMFACTS

&#8226 Burton Farm at Galmpton, near Kinsbridge, Devon, is a 336ha (830-acre) mixed farm, that is partly owned and rented by David and Anne Rossiter.

&#8226 120 Holstein cows producing over 1m litres of milk share the 265ha (654 acres) of grassland with 380 Poll Dorset ewes and 110 Suffolks and 120 Poll Dorset cross Lleyn half-bred ewes.

&#8226 Crops grown include 37.6ha (93 acres) of winter barley, 25ha (62 acres) of Melody maize and 16.5ha (41 acres) of winter wheat.

&#8226 Accommodation and catering business which includes 14 letting rooms, two self-catering cottages, and a Garden Room restaurant.