27 July 2001

Lots of free advice available, so talk it over before deciding

TAKE advantage of free business advice and talk to as many people as possible before making any decisions about rebuilding in the wake of foot-and-mouth, says Ian Kenny, agricultural business adviser with the Royal Bank of Scotland.

"There is free advice out there, with consultancy grants available from Scottish Enterprise Dumfries and Galloway and from Business Link in England.

"For anyone looking to rebuild their business after F&M, the most important thing that they must do is talk," says Mr Kenny.

"Take the grants and talk to advisers and consultants. Talk to your accountant. Talk to your bank manager. Talk to other farmers. And talk to your family. The starting point is to devise your business plans and cash-flow projections for the next few years."

Since June, as part of a recovery programme for the south-west of Scotland, Scottish Enterprise Dumfries and Galloway has been offering grants of up to £1400 to all farmers in the region to enable them to employ agricultural consultants to prepare farm business plans.

A short-term plan to help individuals through their difficulties is the first step, with a longer-term business plan then put together which takes account of any restructuring or diversification that is needed. A similar programme is offered by the Farm Business Advice Service south of the border, run by Business Link in England and Business Connect in Wales.

"But even though money is available, a huge number of farmers have not made use of it," Mr Kenny says.

Although 178 farms in the county had confirmed cases of F&M, when contiguous culls and the 3km sheep cull are added, more than 1000 farms lost all their stock or at least their entire sheep flock. Yet figures from Scottish Enterprise Dumfries and Galloway show that, by July 19, only 300 grants had been awarded.

"Despite all the heartache that losing stock caused, these farmers now have the chance to plan a new business from scratch.

"If you had been struggling for a while before, then you must take this chance to find out exactly why that was and address the problems.

"The fundamental question every farmer must ask themselves is whether they actually want to continue farming. Use that as your starting point. And talk to your family," he stresses. "Listen to their ideas and incorporate them in your plans. You will hopefully keep them interested and have someone to take over the farm."

Scottish Enterprise Dumfries and Galloway, 01387-245000; Business Link, 0845-600 9006; Business Connect, 0845-796 9798. &#42