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Stackyard Feature Jan 06

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Cumbrian Farmers Back the Future

Farmers have given a resounding backing to a new company which will help them meet change and secure their own futures as well as that of rural Cumbria.

More than 60 Cumbrian farmers from across the county agreed to form Cumbria Farming Network (Rural Futures) at a meeting on Thursday night (January 12) at Threlkeld, near Keswick.

rural futures
Directors elected at the annual meeting, left to right, back, Richard Maxwell, Glenis Postlethwaite, Carl Walters, Mike Booth, front, Brian Armstrong, Arnold Maw, Jayne Bland, Thomas Whiteford and Will Rawling. Missing from the photograph is Ken Pears.

Each pledged a £20 annual membership to join the company which this summer will take over the role established by Cumbria's Rural Futures project.

Rural Futures is a project of Voluntary Action Cumbria and when funding runs out at the end of July this year, thanks to the co-operation in the company of as many farmers as possible, a mix of funding from private trusts as well as UK and European grant money will hopefully have been secured to continue the work.

Thursday's first annual meeting received the complete backing of those who had attended and a board of 10 directors representing the county's five districts was elected.

“Since the project started in 2002, post foot and mouth, the whole concept has been to get farmers to work with other farmers and we would like farmers themselves to take on the work of Rural Futures and through the company continue to drive this agenda,” said Paul Harper who has been appointed secretary of the new company and who has been the project's leader from its outset.

Rural Futures over the last four years has organised around 320 meetings covering a wide range of topics, some of which have been catalysts for setting up marketing groups - currently there are 25 running.

It has helped farmer groups secure more than £700,000 in grant aid to improve their businesses and major initiatives which it has supported have included the launch of the Cumberland Dairy and its cheese-making operation and the Swalex scheme which has recently resulted in the largest exportation of UK breeding sheep from Swaledale breeders to Estonia.

Will Rawling, of Ennerdale, a Rural Futures co-ordinator who was elected to the new board, told the meeting that the whole of Cumbrian agriculture would benefit from the continuation of the farmer-led projects.

It would re-connect farmers with the funding agencies as well as the other main county farming organisations - Pentalk, the Federation of Cumbria Commoners, Farm Connect Cumbria, Cumbria Organics as well as the NFU and the CLA - in a rural partnership.

“This rural partnership will result in efficient quality production, sustainable communities and land management and efficient delivery of policy,” he said.

Membership of the co-operative would have opportunities to join local skills groups. It would enable to development of projects for the benefits of all farmers and allow farmers to communicate their needs to the funding agencies.

It is envisaged that it will provide information and technical backing to members through newsletters and a website as well as a telephone information line and services could include reduced cost help with form filling.

Board members elected for each district were: Copeland, Will Rawling, Ennerdale and Richard Maxwell, Ennerdale; Eden, Brian Armstrong, Kirkoswald and Carl Walters, Bampton; South Lakeland, Mick Booth, Kentmere, and Jayne Bland, Selside; Carlisle, Arnold Maw, Bewcastle and Thomas Whiteford, Brampton; Allerdale, Ken Pears, Caldbeck and Glenis Postlethwaite, Lorton.

Cumbria Farming Network (Rural Futures) wants to enrol as many members as possible. Those eligible to apply are farmers or farmer-controlled businesses engaged in farming activities in Cumbria.

The company is limited by guarantee and is non-profit making. Liability is limited to £1 a member or within a year of ceasing to be a member if the company is wound-up for payment of debts.

Anyone interested in membership should contact Paul Harper or Jean Canniffe at Voluntary Action Cumbria for further information, tel 01768 242130.

© Copyright 2005 Jennifer MacKenzie All Rights Reserved.

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Article by
Jennifer MacKenzie

link Rural Futures Farm Assistant Scheme in Cumbria