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Reaseheath College and Prince Charles join forces to help Cheshire's dairy farmers

PUBLISHED: 09:29 10 March 2014 | UPDATED: 09:29 10 March 2014

Reaseheath College offers exceptional agricultural training courses and has extensive links to the local farming community

Reaseheath College offers exceptional agricultural training courses and has extensive links to the local farming community

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Some Cheshire farmers are in dire straits, wondering what changes they need to make to survive. A new local project, by royal appointment, is offering a helping hand

Lesley Innes, from RADA, who is managing the project made possible by the Prince's Countryside Fund.Lesley Innes, from RADA, who is managing the project made possible by the Prince's Countryside Fund.

Times are tough for many farmers. Dairying - the main sector in Cheshire’s agricultural economy - has seen a steady stream of people leaving the industry. In 2012/13, acknowledged as one of the toughest years in living memory for dairy farmers, a third of them were losing money, according to DairyCo, a not-for-profit organisation working on behalf of Britain’s dairy farmers. The garden was not exactly rosy for beef and sheep farmers either.

Figures released by Defra last year showed that the total income from farming had fallen by 14 per cent between 2011 and 2012. All this on top of spiralling increases in the cost of living.

It is against this gloomy backdrop that a project gets to work this March offering help and support to farmers in Cheshire. The initiative is based at Reaseheath College, Nantwich, and has been given a £48,250 grant from the Prince’s Countryside Fund, set up by Prince Charles to tackle key issues affecting rural Britain and to secure a sustainable future for British agriculture and the rural economy.

‘We are delighted to receive this funding,’ says George Fisher, manager of Reaseheath Agricultural Development Academy. ‘The project will open up new doors for us to work with farmers that do not usually interact with Reaseheath and the knowledge transfer work that we do. Most importantly, it will enable us to help farmers that are in urgent need of support and business improvement.’

The key to this project is reaching farmers who until now have simply not been on the college’s radar. There are about 600 dairy farmers in Cheshire, and Reaseheath has worked in some way with a third of them.

‘So there are a lot of dairy farmers out there we haven’t interacted with,’ says Lesley Innes, from RADA, who is managing the project. ‘Whether they seek their learning opportunities elsewhere, or whether they’re off the radar because they’d rather do their own thing, it’s those farmers we are looking to reach.’

And because they are off the radar, those running the project cannot be sure exactly what problems those farmers may be grappling with. They may need financial or business advice, expert guidance on farm management, succession planning or animal husbandry.’

The aim of the project over the course of the next year is to identify 50 farmers in most need, and give them that expert support and advice.

‘With these areas, there is a lot of potential to help farmers,’ says Lesley.

Joining Lesley and George on the steering group is agricultural chaplain Sharon Mayer, solicitor Graham Gigg, farm business consultant David Hughes and farm vet Sara Pedersen.

Lesley will be hoping to exploit industry links to let people know about the project and to identify farmers who may be helped. Those people, like vets and agricultural suppliers, whose job it is to go up the farm drive may be crucial in getting the word out.

‘People in farming can be isolated,’ says Lesley. ‘You can go from one day to the next and not see anyone apart from the feed rep.’

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