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
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,
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
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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