Take advantage of
Farmers may not have much
money in their pockets at
the moment but there are
plenty of other people in the
south east of England that
do. They care about wildlife,
the landscape and how and
where the food they eat has
Isabel Davies examines how
producers in the region are
turning this to their
SOUTH-EAST farmers have a unique opportunity to improve their fortunes by tapping into local consumers prosperity and appetite for regional food.
Or as MAFF writes in the south-east section of its England Rural Development plan: "The high population density of the region provides opportunities for farmers to add value to their produce and to provide goods and services to a generally affluent customer base."
Data from the Office for National Statistics shows the regions population at nearly 8m excluding London and income levels to be the highest in the UK, suggesting a potentially lucrative market for struggling farmers.
This contrasts with latest figures from Wye College in Kent which show incomes on mainly arable and dairy farms plummeted to £3536 and £1888 respectively in the year to 1999, while sheep and cattle producers made a loss.
And preliminary data for the current year shows only a slight upturn. "Farmers have only made less of loss rather than a profit," said Alison Tanton, senior investigative officer at Wye.
But Graeme Kerr of the Countryside Agencys south-east office reckons, despite pockets of rural deprivation, opportunities abound in the south east. "It has a lot of affluent consumers, a very large population, is accessible to regional and European markets and high quality countryside."
"If you think about that, it gives farmers an opportunity to play a new marketing strategy."
Finding innovative ways to tap into these opportunities is the biggest challenge, but the Countryside Agency believes some of its ideas could provide a blueprint for the future.
One of the aims of the agencys new High Weald Land Management Initiative is to draw on the regions wealth by getting residents in this part of Sussex to invest directly in the countryside. One way of making this happen this, said Mr Kerr, could be by establishing a investment fund or trust for land-based businesses.
"The High Weald is fairly well off and there are an awful lot of people who move specifically to the countryside to enjoy the benefits of living there.
"Its almost like setting up an ethical investment fund that local people can contribute to maintaining the environment which is the reason they moved there."
Farmers also stand to benefit from the recent launch of a free directory drawing residents attention to local products and their contribution to the landscape. "Do you wonder why your toilet seat is made from scarce tropical mahogany, rather than the oak or chestnut grown in the woods around you?" it asks.
Think about links
"Were getting people to think about the links between what they buy and where they live," said Mr Kerr.
wonder why your
toilet seat is made
from scarce tropical mahogany, rather than
the oak or chestnut
grown in the woods
Made in the High