17 September 2001
FOL destined for radical overhaul?

By Tom Allen-Stevens

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ONE of the potential buyers for Farming Online has hinted the site could be put through a radical overhaul, if its bid to buy the site proves successful.

The consortium of 80 farmers, who each have up to 10,000 to invest, is the only one to make public its bid for the UKs oldest farm Internet portal.

“FOL investors would need to see a positive return going forward,” says Aubourn Farmings Antony Oliphant, who represents the consortium.

“The cost of starting up a new website these days is relatively little, so its quite plausible that we shall do our own thing.”

He says he is looking for an agricultural community website that will provide a channel to promote particular aspects of its members businesses.

Those who offer bed-and-breakfast accommodation, for example, would have a slot on a page on the site, which is then advertised in the national press.

FOL Networks, which was founded in 1995, put its Internet portal up for sale in August this year.

A web of non-disclosure agreements mean that mystery still surrounds who else is in line to buy the site.

The sale price is also shrouded in secrecy, although initial rumoured seven figure sums have been pegged down considerably in later reports.

FOL Networks marketing manager Jonathan Jackson says he is “pleased” by the amount of interest he has received from buyers.

“I can tell you that there are more than half a dozen potential buyers, most of them inside the agricultural community,” he says.

Just the Internet service provider and the news and information portal, which claims 30,000 users, is up for grabs, along with its staff of around half a dozen.

The software solutions company, including its development team, which gives the site its impressive graphics and presentation, will stay with FOL Networks.

“Developing software solutions will become our core focus. Theres not an awful lot of complementary activity with the portal,” says Mr Jackson.

FOL Networks recently received an extra 7 million injection of capital, which was invested in the software solutions part of the business, says Mr Jackson.

The company has helped put the National Farmers Union, ADAS, Cargill, Dalgety, British Sugar and Home Grown Cereals Authority on the net.

Depending on how well negotiations go, the sale of the Internet portal may complete within the next month or two.