14 June 2002

Environmental pioneer puts unit in estate agents hands

Three months after saying goodbye to Stuart Hailey,

our south-west Management Matters farmer for

two years, John Burns makes a return visit

DURING our time with Stuart Hailey, who farms at Sand Farm, Sidbury, east Devon, we reported on the many changes that were taking place in the business.

The main development was the conversion to organic production, both on the 110-cow dairy herd at Sand Farm and the nearby sheep and beef enterprises at Mincombe Posts, which he ran in partnership with the owner.

Then, in our last report, we heard how he planned to sell the dairy herd and was considering letting the land at Sand Farm. Now, he has gone one step further and decided to sell the whole farm.

"There is no point in being coy about it. The basic facts are I am 62, with a dodgy hip," he says. "My wife and I have recently separated and none of the family wants to take the farm on."

The process that led to the decision to sell began two years ago when the farm business was analysed in detail by Tony Evans, of consultant Andersons, under the government-sponsored Farm Business Advice Scheme.

Part of that analysis involved bringing in property valuers to assess the potential of the farm, particularly its range of brick buildings. It was soon apparent that those buildings added considerable value and potential for extra income.

Having explored several options, including share farming and letting the unit under a farm business tenancy, the final spur to reaching a decision was the requirement to split the assets after a marriage break-up. "Re-taining my share would have left me with a part-time farm and I did not fancy that," says Mr Hailey.

Sand Farm, a Soil Association-registered organic farm of 95ha (235 acres) with a modern dairy unit for 130 cows, is on the market with a guide price of £1.25m.

Agent Stratton & Holborow of Exeter highlights the flexible potential of this attractive property in an area of outstanding natural beauty and only four miles from the sea at Sidmouth. It is seven miles from Honiton and 15 miles from Exeter.

The farm is mainly grassland, but has 13.56ha (33.5 acres) registered for arable area payments. Mr Hailey has managed it for many years with an eye on conservation and environmental care. There are several ponds and streams, an area of woodland and all sporting rights are included in the sale.

Participation in two 10-year Countryside Stewardship Schemes – one for species-rich grassland, the other to encourage Cirl Buntings – brings in annual payments and the whole farm achieved full organic status in April last year.

It is well equipped as a modern dairy farm for 110 cows and followers, with a 12/12 low-line parlour including computerised feeding and recording plus a modern 6000-litre bulk milk tank. Pollution control facilities include a slurry separator and complete dirty water system including underground pipes serving 32ha (80 acres) and four to five months storage for slurry and dirty water.

Part of the dairy unit is in a range of brick-built traditional buildings, which have development potential.

One end of the range has approval for conversion to two flats and an exhibition/conference room. The main farmhouse has been thoroughly modernised. There is also a separate cottage occupied by the herdsman.

Having come to terms with the decision to sell, Mr Hailey comforts himself by pointing out that he has long argued that the older generation should stand aside and let the youngsters have a go.

"It is a very serious issue that there are so many old farmers out there making comments like things arent what they used to be. I argue the main problem in todays agriculture is the lack of opportunities for fresh blood."

With property prices good and the farm well suited to meeting demands for provision of public goods such as high quality landscape and wildlife habitats in return for payments, Mr Hailey felt that selling the whole farm was the best solution.

Stratton & Holborow has told Mr Hailey the farm will appeal to a wide range of buyers. "The firm tells me there is still a good demand for modern dairy units, but there is also a strong demand for farms with high amenity value in areas such as this. So we are expecting a good response." &#42