Mustard TV Video: Pledge over future of Norfolk’s county farms
17:33 10 February 2014
Archant © 2014
Council leaders have insisted they have no intention of selling off Norfolk’s County Farms estate, but acknowledged more must be done to generate more cash from farms to protect frontline services.
Norfolk County Council is landlord to more than 140 tenant farmers, spread out over 16,300 acres of the county, who pay more than £1.7m in rent to County Hall.
But council bosses believe its portfolio of farms could, through diversification and innovative thinking, be generating even more money.
They invited tenant farmers to County Hall today for a meeting on what the future could hold for the farms and to swap ideas on how more revenue could be generated.
Among ideas put forward to bring in more revenue were to use farms to produce biodiesel for Norfolk’s buses and installing wind turbines on farmland.
However, one idea which council leaders said was definitely not on the agenda was a wholesale sell-off of the county farms estate.
George Nobbs, Labour leader of Norfolk County Council, said: “In these tough times for Norfolk, we want to explore ways of maximising income for our vibrant farms estate to protect frontline services.
“This is not about selling off land; it’s about putting landlords and tenants together to generate innovative ideas.
“We are absolutely committed to keeping the county farms estate as big as it is at the moment and not reducing it.
“At this time, we need to make more money, but it is not about saving money or cost cutting. It is about working with the tenants to find ways to generate money.”
About 60 farmers attended yesterday’s meeting and took part in two workshops to talk about how well supported they currently are by their landlords Norfolk County Council.
One of the issues which was raised was the way the county farms are managed - with the eastern half being managed by NPS Group and the western half managed by Bruton Knowles and Brown & Co.
Andrew Robinson, who has a farm at Marshland St James, near Wisbech, was among those who took part in the debate. He said: “With the split management there is no joined up thinking.
“The first thing they should be doing is taking the management of the estate back in hand and take it in-house. They should sort out an asset register to identify where more money could be milked from the estate and used to fund local and frontline services.”
Mr Robinson, who has been a county farm tenant since 2002 and employs six people, said there needed to be a recognition that the estate is a mix of small and big farms and that one size did not fit all.
But he said the meeting had been constructive. He said: “We have had a one to one with people at cabinet level and it is very important for us, as tenants, to have our voices heard.”
Conservative Ian Mackie, chairman of the County Farms working group and member champion for the county farms estate, said he hoped the meeting would herald a new start for the county farm estate and the way the council works with its tenant farmers.
He added: “As a passionate supporter of the county estate I am delighted that selling the family silver remains firmly off the agenda.
“By all parties working together, and listening to new ideas, tenants, agents and the council can plan for the future with greater confidence and certainty.”
County councillors on the working group will make a series of recommendations in due course following yesterday’s meeting.
As part of the event, apprentices from Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse provided displays of historic farming machinery and equipment, including horse harnesses and turnip cutters.
• Do you have a farming story? Call agriculture editor Michael Pollitt on 01603 772453 or email email@example.com