How a young farmer set up in dairying business

6 July 2001

How a young farmer set up in dairying business

ANDREW Potter is in the process of installing as a young farmer in France, having arrived at the 35ha (86-acre) La Gestière in the Mayenne département a little over a year ago.

The mixed grass and arable unit had previously been bought by the SAFER (see previous page) after a dispute between the landowner and his tenant.

Preference was given to Mr Potter as the new owner because he was a young farmer. Three other contenders withdrew their applications for the farm when they discovered they were up against a jeune agriculteur.

"Even though I had worked in farming and construction for several years in East Anglia, I had no formal agricultural qualification," he says. As such, he had to embark on a seven-month BPA (diploma) at the local agricultural college, La Pignerie Laval.

"I wanted to wait a year before doing this, as I wanted more time to brush up on my French, but the ADASEA suggested I should do it straight away."

The BPA is a prerequisite to qualify for the installation grants and loans. It has a strong practical content, while also covering aspects of economics and accounting. (Applicants born after Jan 1, 1971, have to do a more time consuming BTA, which takes a year, followed by a six-month practical course away from the home farm.)

On completion of the BPA, Mr Potter will have to do a 120-hour "project", which will include drawing up a three-year farm plan for La Gestière, with projected income levels. This must be submitted to the regional authority via the ADASEA as part of the grant application process.

Assuming all goes well, 70% of the estimated 100,000 francs should be paid this summer. He also intends to take advantage of the 3.8% loan to help with the purchase of the farm, though his brother-in-law, Elbert Steyn, who completed the installation process several years ago and farms nearby, warns that this interest rate shoots up after 12 years.

The two men have formed a partnership, or gaec, and the intention is to bring all the heifers to La Gestière, freeing up space to expand the milking herd from 40 to 60 cows at Mr Steyns 146ha (360-acre) farm.

In total, Mr Potter paid 760,000 francs for the land, equivalent to just over £2000/ha (£807/acre). "That is a relatively high price for land round here, though it reflects the fact there was 188,000 litres of quota tied to the holding. We also attributed more value to the land and less to the house, as the young farmers loans only apply to the land, not the buildings."

He expects to benefit from the standard reductions in social security charges, and there are further benefits for young farmers from the local co-op and the dairy. His milk buyer, Perrault, for example, offers zero interest loans on up to 50% of milk sales for investment in equipment. It also gives grants for tiling and concreting work.

But, while most new entrants would also get a third off land taxes, this will not be available to Mr Potter as he is part of a gaec.

The key to success, says Mr Steyn, is to integrate. "Its important to get involved in the community, go to the village fetes, play rugby, use the local machinery ring. There is no anti-English feeling and people are generally keen to help."

But, like other farmers, he insists the returns are, at best, modest. "Dairying is one of the more profitable sectors of French farming. Yet, on our unit, where we own everything and have no borrowings, we only take out about 3000 francs a month for each partner."

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