5 January 2001

FIND OUT ABOUT

THE ATTRACTION

OF GOING PUBLIC

With crop and stock prices

on the floor, its a fair bet

that many more farmers

are looking at widening

their business by opening

the farm to the paying public.

But its a course that has

its complications, as

visitors to this years

National Farm Attractions

Network conference will

hear next month.

David Cousins looks at what

are likely to be the hot topics

BEING a UK farmer these days gives you a pretty good idea of what it must be like to be a Third World coffee or cocoa bean producer. You produce an amorphous commodity rather than a branded product and youre at the mercy of huge multinational buyers who want to pay as little as possible for your products.

Not surprisingly, many UK farmers are looking with envy at those who have already opened their farms to the public. Here, at least, is an industry where hard work and an appreciation of what customers want can bring tangible business benefits.

Moreover, while the long-term prospects for mainstream agriculture are at best hard to fathom and at worst bleak, those for farm-based public attractions are rather better. According to the English Tourism Councils latest statistics, there was an 81% jump in numbers of people visiting open farms between 1989 and 1999. That was far more than the increase in visitors to other attractions like country parks, museums, wildlife parks and historical properties.

But life isnt a bed of roses for farm park operators either, says Barry Davies, a chartered surveyor and treasurer of the NFAN. He says the sector is bedevilled by masses of red tape and health and safety regulations, especially since the E coli scare a year ago.

Moreover, breaking into this sector requires a considerable investment in capital, as well the complexities of employing significant numbers of staff. Not to mention coping with the satisfactions and frustrations of dealing with the public en masse.

This years conference at Stoneleigh on Feb 8 will be aimed at three groups of people – established farm park operators, those who have recently set up and those who are seriously thinking of setting up.

Speakers concentrating on how to deal with the statutory legislation on animal welfare and avoiding a Trading Standards inspection will be of interest chiefly to established operators. So will those looking at dealing with your bank manager and the likelihood of a fairer system of business rating being introduced.

New operators – or those about to take the plunge – will be catered for by a paper on avoiding the pitfalls of starting an open farm. There will also be a chance to find out what form new grant aid and advisory help through the English Rural Development Programme (ERDP) and the Rural Enterprise Scheme (RES) will take.

NFANConference 2001 and beyond – Taking stock and taking action

Provisional programme (see FW Jan 19 for more details)

&#8226 Keynote speaker – Elliot Morley, minister for Countryside or Janet Anderson, minister for tourism.

&#8226 Sources of grant aid through the English Rural Development Programme and Rural Enterprise Scheme – Norman Thorp, MAFF.

&#8226 Business rate relief – Tony Capp, DETR.

&#8226 Planning permission. Are the rules being relaxed? – Barry Davies and Peter Kelly, highways engineer.

&#8226 Added value for attractions through franchising – a franchise operator.

&#8226 The new entrant. Avoiding the pitfalls – Umberslade Farm.

&#8226 How to get the best deal out of your bank manager – Lloyds TSB.

&#8226 Cutting through the animal welfare legislation – Sarah Gordon, MAFF

&#8226 Avoiding the Trading Standards inspection – Richard Staveley, Trading Standards.

CONFERENCEDETAILS

When: Feb 8, 2001.

Where: Arthur Rank Centre, NAC Stoneleigh.

Cost: £38 for NFAN members, £45 for non-members. Non-members welcome.

Further information: 01536-513397.

Doing the job right: Below Umberslade Childrens Farm, Tanworth-in-Arden, W Midlands.

Right: Sheep viewing at

Northcote Horses,

Spilsby, Lincs.