7 April 2000

University develops £6m school of agriculture site

By Robert Harris

REFLECTING confidence in the long-term future of UK farming, De Montfort University is pushing ahead with plans to expand its student base and revamp its agricultural portfolio.

A £6m plan to develop a single campus at Riseholme Park on the northern outskirts of Lincoln, one of two sites owned by the school of agriculture, is now well underway.

And last month, the university announced it had bought Lodge Farm, a neighbouring 200ha (500 acre) arable unit at Nettleham, more than doubling the farmed area at Riseholme, which is predominantly dairy.

It has now put the 240ha (590 acres) of land its owns surrounding the Caythorpe campus, 22 miles to the south, on the market.

A further 16ha (40 acres) of land and the college buildings it surrounds will be sold when the university vacates the premises in September 2002.

"We have outgrown both sites," says Clive Bound, head of De Montforts school of agriculture, who forecasts further growth. He calculates the new facilities will help boost numbers from 850 today to between 1000 and 1200 in the next 10 years. There are also a further 2500 students on NVQ programmes who make use of the university farms, he adds.

"The decision to move allowed us to rethink our farming policy," says Mr Bound. "The two blocks of land are 22 miles – and a city – apart. It is a nightmare moving equipment between the two, so we have a degree of duplication. It is also a long way for students to travel."

Although no firm decision has been taken, it is likely that some existing enterprises will be replaced by new ones, reflecting the changing face of UK farming, says Philip Wynn, managing director of the university farms.

"We have to get our cost structure into a form which will make the farms sustainable for the longer term, to supply a physical resource to the university at zero cost. We are off to a good start. We will be able to strip out overheads created by the sites being so far apart.

"But we also have to consider the needs of education and where the industry is going. This is an enormous opportunity to look at the farms in a different way. Rather than simply being food producers, we need to reflect the innovative technologies, niche markets and various forms of diversification that many farms are now having to consider."

The 100-sow indoor pig unit at the mainly arable Caythorpe site is a likely casualty, while the slightly bigger outdoor herd also faces an uncertain future. Although the units have moved back into profit and are now making some 10p above the 86p/kg break-even price, this follows two years of losses, says farms manager Tony Wright.

Much of the new land is not suitable for outdoor pigs, adds Mr Bound. "And I dont think we will see prices recover to the levels of three year ago. We are looking at alternatives, such as renting more land or joint ventures."

&#8226 farmers weekly will follow the move, reporting on key management decisions as they are made. &#42