15 March 2002

Mission to convey the right image

Farmcares general manager,

Christine Tacon is

determined to improve the

image of commercial farming.

Wendy Owen reports

CHRISTINE Tacon, the general manager of farm business management company, Farmcare, says it is her mission to improve the image of commercial farming. The impression that it is out to destroy the environment is simply not true and she believes large farming companies have a lot to offer agriculture in general.

She is also firmly committed to practical ways of increasing the level of co-operation among farmers. As part of the Co-operative Group, Farmcare has sponsored a revolutionary new project based in Cumbria.

"I find it offensive when people assume that commercial farming is irresponsible and takes no account of environmental considerations. The idea that only small farmers look after the land is wrong – businesses like ours have to set high standards in all areas if we are to succeed," says Mrs Tacon.

Farmcare is responsible for a total of 34,400ha (85,000 acres) of land, mainly in the east of England and Scotland. This gives the company a high profile, which in turn means it often has access to some key decision makers, Mrs Tacon explains.

"Because we are a large business with the Co-operative Group as our parent organisation, I get to meet quite a few influential people. In the last six months I have been pointing out that we get a lot of requests for advice from farmers who want to set up co-operatives but dont know how to go about it.

&#42 More co-operation

"Perhaps I was not alone in making this point because a move towards greater co-operation featured strongly in the Food and Farming Commissions Curry report."

The Co-op has taken the idea further and made it a reality by "putting its money where its mouth is", she says. Last month, the group announced sponsorship of a new organisation to help farmers set up their own co-operatives, which will be based in Penrith and cover Cumbria and north west England.

"Some co-operatives run by farmers have failed in the past, mainly because they have not always had the time or the expertise to manage them," she said.

"This will be different because the project will be a one-stop shop, overseen by a steering group made up of leading figures in business and finance who will give their advice. Other organisations like the NFU and the Plunkett Foundation will also be consulted."

&#42 Small player

Despite being one of the biggest farm management companies in the UK, Farmcare is only a small player in the total agricultural supply chain. "That is the reason behind its drive for increased co-operation," explains Mrs Tacon, who qualified as a chartered engineer but has been involved in marketing for most of her career and has worked for several high profile companies, including the Mars organisation and the New Zealand Dairy Board.

"One of the most obvious potential customers for what we produce on our farms is the Co-op itself, which has more than 1000 retail food stores. But we cannot fill an order for even one category of fresh produce on our own. We would need to collaborate with private farmers to win big contracts."