14 January 2000

FARMING IN FRANCE

Hard work, but now we love it

ANDREW and Susan Clarke came to St Lurent de Ceris from Lancaster two years ago. Andrew, who has a brother and sister, had worked on his fathers farm and with no way of owning a farm in England in his own right – looked to France.

The couple bought 62ha and have a tenancy on a further 22ha. The previous owner had done a good job in getting lots of little plots of land together to make it easier to farm. Often a farm can be quite scattered throughout an area.

"It was hard at first but now we love it here," says Susan, in the farmhouse they have renovated to provide a lovely home for their family of four children aged five to 16. The couple have a quota for 600 sheep and hope to improve on that and Susan has started a dairy goat herd from scratch. She has 95 Alpine and Anglo Nubian goats with two thirds just coming into milk. She has an agreement to sell the milk through a local co-op and eventually she hopes to expand the herd to 200.

"We have never kept goats before but with the uncertainty over ewe premiums we didnt want to have all our eggs in one basket," she explains.

&#42 Get it in writing

The couple were not happy with the expenses they incurred with the English agent who installed them in France. "Get exactly what you are paying for in writing, before you start," they warn.

They were installed as young farmers in November but Andrew did not go on the CFPPA course until the following June. "With hindsight we should have gone on it first, it is so important to get everything right."

One thing they definitely got right was buying a farm in a village rather than their ideal of being "tucked away somewhere on our own."

"We would have had to make a special effort to meet people, whereas here we are part of the community," says Susan. " The local people have been brilliant, so helpful and generous, bringing us beams and corner stones to use when we were renovating the farmhouse and even running us about when I wrote off the Land rover. The villagers are so pleased to find young couples who want to farm in the area."

The family are enjoying the challenge of farming in France and intend to stay. "We are looking at it long term," they say.

Hard work is paying off for sheep farmers Andrew and Susan Clarke who have renovated their house and started a dairy goat herd at St Laurent de Ceris.