14 January 2000

No need to take another job to pay the way

Andrew and Hilary Marsh and their four daughters aged 4-12 years arrived at La Verne, Grand Madieu, a year ago.

"We had always had a hankering to farm in France and first looked into it eight years ago," says Hilary. "We should have come earlier as in the end we had to get here quickly as Andrew is nearly 40." (Young farmers grants are only available for farmers aged up to 35 plus one extra year for each of up to four children),

The family, from Newport, Shropshire, farm 102ha and have another 8ha of woodland. They bought the farm lock, stock and dairy herd – 70 cows and 26 young stock. Hilary does the milking.

"The cows were a bit thin, the tractors were a bit tired – we didnt realise how tired – and the fields hadnt seen much fertiliser," she says. "We have done a lot since we arrived. The cows are looking better and my husband is happier now he has got decent tractors. We even got a gîte going and had bookings for four weeks. I hope the gîte takes off as we have another little house we can do up."

Hilary enjoys milking the cows – if they had stayed in England she thinks she would have needed to take a job off the farm – returning to nursing, perhaps. "Our choice was to come here or rationalise the farm at home."

"I dont look back when you hear about prices and auctioneers having to waive commission or farmers would come away with bills when they sell calves," says Andrew. "Here farmers are moaning terribly about calf prices when Holstein bulls are making 600francs. At home there were dairy farmers who would be happy to sell for £60!"

The couple found the farm with the help of agent George Lidbury, who they found through an advert in farmers weekly. "He doesnt come cheap but it was money well spent," says Hilary, who is still learning French. "He brought us out here and we saw an awful lot of France in a weekend when we were looking for a farm.

"I dont think we would have managed without George, he was there every step of the way even down to sorting out the girls schools. He was here for two days when we were buying the farm and came back twice to finalise things and was always at the end of a phone. He even came with us to make our wills recently, as he was in the area. Aftercare was all in the charge."