Crown continues organic

The Crown Estate has started its reorganisation of the Ashby St Ledgers Estate in Northants after purchasing the 2337-acre property last autumn.

Some agents were taken by surprise when the landowner paid about £10m for the diverse estate, which included organic arable and dairy operations as well as a conventional 320-cow milk unit.

Apart from a courtyard of traditional buildings touted as a possible development site, there seemed little long-term potential to justify such a large investment.

Farmcare, the farming wing of the Co-operative group, was bought in after the sale to take care of all the farming operations under a short-term farm business tenancy, said Alan Laidlaw, the Crown’s head of customer services.

But milk production is not Farmcare’s speciality anymore – it sold its own 20m-litre dairy business at the end of 2003 – and the conventional dairy herd was dispersed at the time of purchase, with the equipment being sold by auction in December.

However, even though Mr Laidlaw said the Crown had no particular bias towards organic farming, the 120-cow organic cow herd at Chapel Farm was kept on and now forms the core of a 546-acre, 15-year FBT starting this Michaelmas.

“Our view is that once organic status has been granted it holds some value.

To remove that status would be nonsensical and we would hope that the current positive conditions [for organic milk] will be reflected in the open market,” said Mr Laidlaw.

Chapel Farm is available in two lots and is being offered with 750,000 litres of milk quota by land agent Carter Jonas on behalf of the Crown.

The cows are available for purchase and single farm payment entitlements could also be included if required.

Lot one includes most of the land, a three-bedroom farmhouse and the dairy buildings.

Lot two will come with a four-bedroom house currently under construction and two large young stock yards, which could form the basis of an alternative enterprise, said Mr Laidlaw who wouldn’t be drawn on what rent the Crown was hoping to achieve.

The future of the rest of the estate would be announced soon, he added.