MAFF hails non-farming farm

23 February 2001

MAFF hails non-farming farm

By Johann Tasker

THE future of farming may not involve farming at all, according to the Ministry of Agriculture.

The ministry has chosen a farm which has quit food production entirely as its flagship to promote diversification and good environmental management

Austen and Emma Righton, of Lower Farm, Noke, Oxfordshire, have sold all their machinery and converted old cow sheds into luxury holiday cottages.

Instead of growing food, the couple have created wetlands under the governments Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA) Scheme.

Its a far cry from the situation three years ago, when 365ha (900 acres) of land at the farm was growing arable crops.

The farm had been at the forefront of intensive food production since the 1960s, when it saw the very first pumped drainage scheme in the area.

Now the farm is at the forefront of diversification and environmental management.

Many fields have been sold to a neighbouring RSPB reserve, leaving 154ha (380 acres) which was not deemed viable as an arable unit.

Another shed has been converted into offices, one of which is leased by the RSPB. The couple now run an IT business selling high-tech equipment from the farm.

Mr Righton acknowledges that other farmers may raise eyebrows at what he has done, but he has no regrets about giving up food production.

He told FWi: “The reasons for doing it were purely financial. It just seemed to stack up.

“Some farmers may not be in a position to do what weve done but we were lucky that the whole of the farm was eligible for the ESA scheme.”

MAFF is so pleased with what the Rightons have achieved that it has invited journalists to tour the farm on a special visit today (23 February).

A MAFF spokeswoman said: “They dont actually do any farming at all now. It makes an interesting case for diversification and how you can get the government to pay you for growing nothing.”

Lower Farm is one of only a handful of farms in the area which lies entirely within the Upper Thames Tributaries ESA, on the edge of Otmoor and in the flood plain of the River Ray.

Once water was pumped from the farm into the river, but these days water levels are allowed to rise on the land.

The fields hold a lot of water which would otherwise have contributed to flood levels downstream.

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