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Stackyard News Sep 06

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Cumbrian Farmers Network for their Future

The Cumbria Farmer Network - a company set up earlier this year - has now officially taken over the work of the Rural Futures project, which ran out at the end of July.

Cumbria Farmer Network directors (left to right): Mick Booth, Steven Marsden, Brian Armstrong, John Thirlwall (adviser), Glenis Postlethwaite, Paul Harper (secretary), Carl Walters, Jayne Knowles, Will Rawling and Richard Maxwell.


Rural Futures, post foot and mouth since 2002, has helped farmer groups secure grant aid to improve their businesses as well as staging a wide range of meetings some of which have acted as catalysts for setting up marketing groups.

Since the inaugural meeting of the Network where 60 Cumbrian farmers each pledged the £20 annual membership to join the company, it has way exceeded its membership target with over 300 farmer, corporate (farmer-controlled businesses) and associate members.

Paul Harper, who was project officer for Rural Futures and is now the Network’s company secretary, said: “We have demonstrated that there is a need for such an organisation.

“Farmers do need to collaborate, particularly with the consequences on farm incomes with the single farm payment. We have a big role to play in helping farmers improve their knowledge and skills to help them become more efficient, encourage their innovative ideas as well as linking them with the general public and raising the profile of agriculture.”

Since the Farmer Network was founded, Mr Harper has secured core funding to pay for staff and expenses while the Network becomes a commercial operation, which previously under Rural Futures, was financially supported by Defra.

This includes two years’ funding from the Northern Rock Foundation, plus initial funding from the Cumbria Community Foundation’s Community Champions and Strengthening Rural Communities funds and the Hadfield Trust.

The Network has also won contract work from a number of organisations, including The Friends of the Lake District to promote farm walks for the public, research for Leader + to look at the hill farming sector, funding for a third year to train young people to become self-employed farm assistants and Government funding jointly with Farm Link to organise on-farm demonstrations to show how farmers can improve technical efficiency, save money and reduce pollution.

The Network has recently appointed Susan Harper from West House Farm, Dearham as part-time office manager operating from VAC’s Redhills centre, near Penrith.

The Network is run by a board of farmer directors who represent the different districts of the county – Copeland, Will Rawling, Ennerdale and Richard Maxwell, Ennerdale; Eden, Brian Armstrong, Kirkoswald and Carl Walters, Bampton; South Lakeland, Mick Booth, Kentmere, and Jayne Knowles, Selside; Carlisle, Arnold Maw, Bewcastle and Thomas Whiteford, Brampton; Allerdale, Ken Pears, Caldbeck and Glenis Postlethwaite, Lorton.

Co-opted to the board since the inaugural meeting were organic farmer Steve Marsden, of Windermere, and milk producer Matt Bland, of Dacre, near Penrith.

Chairman Will Rawling said: “The Network allows the farming community to develop their own futures without having to rely on government organisations and policy makers to come up with the initiatives for them.

“It also gives the opportunity to target some of the current issues facing agriculture with regard to continuing regulations and legislation farmers have to comply with to develop a more flexible, user-friendly approach.”

Mr Rawling added that the network would be further developing the strengths initiated by Rural Futures which had made in-roads into the farming psyche and had highlighted to farmers the benefits of knowledge sharing and of being less insular.

Cumbria Farmer Network has recently taken on the running from Cumbria FWAG the farm plastic recycling scheme, managed by Alison Hargreaves.

To use the scheme, farmers must join the Cumbria Farmer Network to use the twice-yearly collections across the county, which has helped boost membership further.

The annual membership fee also gives three technical newsletters a year, telephone information on sources of advice and funding, up to three days support for groups of members to access funding and a discount on advice in the preparation of business plans to support funding applications.

It gives members the opportunity to join local training groups to develop new skills and knowledge and to take part in events to inform the general public about agriculture.

Successful initiatives under the Rural Futures Project, which helped farmer groups secure more than £700,000 in funding have included the launch of The Cumberland Dairy and its cheese-making operation and the Swalex scheme which resulted in the largest exportation of UK breeding sheep from Swaledale breeders to Estonia.

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.

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