30 June 2000

Diversification creates jobs, claims CLA

GOVERNMENT investment in on-farm diversification can be a cost-effective way of creating jobs, the Country Landowners Association has claimed.

After visiting a mushroom enterprise on a Herefordshire farm, Sir Edward Greenwell, CLA deputy president, said the £210,000 cost of providing 13 new jobs was tiny compared with money spent on some, high profile projects. The development of the mushroom venture, which grows on contract to an Irish company supplying Tesco, would not have been possible without a 39% EU Objective 5b grant. The CLA was eager to see government commitment to claiming all available European money to kick-start rural developments.

Martin Jolly said his mushroom project at Birchend Farm, Castle Frome, was initiated by the collapse of hop prices, and falling margins on the 75,000 broiler chickens he produced each year. Planning permission to build extra chicken sheds was used instead to construct four controlled environment-insulated tunnels linked to a service and packaging buildings.

"Demand is growing and buyers want shorter delivery times," said Mr Jolly. "We can get mushrooms in the shops within 24 hours and in the first three months of picking have not had a single reject."

Every two weeks the farm took delivery of 21t of new compost made up of straw, chicken litter water and mushroom spoor. Five weeks later the first fungi were ready to pick and harvest continued for about three weeks. The compost was then removed and disposed of, with a significant amount going to cider apple orchards.

An expansion is now planned with the aim of producing 1.5t of mushrooms a day.

Sir Edward said ministers must ensure that match funding was provided and pressure local planning committees and officers to adopt a positive policy towards the conversion of redundant buildings. &#42

Martin Jolly (right) has seen profits mushroom since diversifying.