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From: Oz <>
Newsgroups: sci.agriculture
Subject: Re: Small Holdings in the UK
Date: Wed, 15 Apr 1998 22:27:53 +0100

In article <>, Steve Newport
<> writes
>I am considering purchasing a small holding in the UK and wondered if
>there are any people out there who have done this from a
>non-agricultural back ground.
>Any comments, suggestions, warning ?

First important question:

Do you intend to earn your living from it, or play at doing it?

If the former then you had better get at least one solid years (absolute
and utter minimum) *full time* work experience on small farms. They
probably won't be able to pay you anything, but they might manage board
and lodging.

If the latter then what occupation do you plan to use to earn your
living? What do you wish to achieve with the smallholding?

I am being absolutely serious, by the way.


From: Oz <>
Newsgroups: sci.agriculture
Subject: Re: Small Holdings in the UK
Date: Thu, 16 Apr 1998 22:54:54 +0100

In article <>, Pat Lohmann <>
>Oz wrote:
>I've thought about this myself, but hesitated asking in this forum
>because I just knew Oz would ask these questions...

Oh dear, am I an ogre? (NB Please don't answer this.)

>> First important question:
>> Do you intend to earn your living from it, or play at doing it?
>Speaking for myself, I have no illusions that I could do anything but
>play at it, which is what I do now...on a very smallholding.

Nowt wrong about that. The realisation that it is effectively a hobby is
critical. That way you don't end up spending more on it than you can
afford. It's worth noting a not-very-well-kept secret that most farmers
are in much the same position. They would like to play at it: have
lakes, woods, wild areas, havens for rare species and indeed most do
some of these things. They also have to earn a living, which means much
of their area has to be commercial, and nothing wrong with that either.

>Let's say I wouldn't need to earn a living. My aim would be to preserve
>a smallholding as a working farm and enjoy doing it.

Beware, until you have tried it you have no concept how much cash can be
lost even on a smallholding if you aren't careful. The ways things can
die and/or fail are unbelievable. Also invariably at the worst possible

>> I am being absolutely serious, by the way.
>So am I. Do you know of anything near Winchester or would I have to go
>farther west?

In the next few years there will be a lot of small farms coming up for
sale cheap, the way ag prices are going. The ones in 'nicer' areas go
for good money to people selling city properties. The somewhat more
isolated ones with a significant problem (ie slopes or poor soil etc)
may be close to unsaleable, and thus cheap.

You could try getting farmer's weekly posted to Ma, and get local papers
(better) sent over to you. Pricy (per paper), but probably the best way.
I suspect that you may need to go further west, possibly into somerset,
devon and even cornwall. IMHO avoid wales, it's a lot more bleak and
difficult than you might think from the map.

Are you thinking crops, or livestock? The former needs to be near a big
town and will be expensive. The latter is much easier to find and
cheaper. Go to some places (like Exmoor and Dartmoor) and you may even
manage to get a mesolithic monument of some description!

>Pat Lohmann
>Woods Hole MA

From your location, somewhere near the sea and fishing?
NB How big is your idea of a 'smallholding'? I would put 50-100 acres
for livestock (not dairy) and maybe 10 acres for vegetable cropping or
'chickens and two pigs' style.


From: Oz <>
Newsgroups: sci.agriculture
Subject: Re: Small Holdings in the UK
Date: Fri, 17 Apr 1998 20:58:16 +0100

In article <>, Steve Newport
<> writes

>As for myself I am trying to find out whether it is feasable for a
>'townie' (for want of a better expression) to make a living by
>purchasing a Small Holding or whether it is necessary to have an
>income from another source.

An income from another source is **essential**. Remember that farmers
with decades (centuries even) of knowledge, experience and equipment
ceased trading from smallholdings decades ago. It's got very much harder
since then.

One of the reasons I am so concerned is that several close friends of
mine, with significant (ie six figure) reserves ended up after ten years
with absolutely zilch (and six figs was a lot of dosh in those days). It
really is very difficult.

>Certainly from what I have read and been told so far doing it all with
>no other income is too much like 'existing' rather than earning a

No it's more like slowly going bust. You would be doing very well if you
managed to exist.

>It would be necessary to go up a level to do that and this
>would, perhaps, be beyond my means.

Minimum is 60 cows (+quota), 250 acres (arable) and maybe 200 beef
animals. Not at the moment, of course (not a hope) but over the last few
years maybe. And that is still 'existing'.

Believe you me it's not at all easy. I'm a 'townie' that has done it, it
took 20 years of hard graft on a large but derelict farm. I did two
years on-farm experience, took a 12 month post-grad farm managemnt
course and was two years as a unit manager on a very large estate. I had
barely enough experience and it took all my resources 100%. Luckily I
had no illusions that survival was the aim, I left the 'green' bit as
low cost until we could begin afford it (about 10 years). Remember even
well established medium sized farmers are in severe difficulties at the
present time, very many will not see the millennium out which is tragic
after what is often centuries of occupation.


From: Oz <>
Newsgroups: sci.agriculture
Subject: Re: Small Holdings in the UK
Date: Thu, 23 Apr 1998 20:20:56 +0100

In article <>, Pat Lohmann <>

>Understood. For my circumstance I think I can afford to play and
>preserve more
>and commercialize less. Still, it would need to be a working farm, at
>least able to support itself eventually, if not me.

>I would hope that since I would be content with marginal profits I would
>care to take only marginal risks. But I can see how one might get
>involved in the
>challenge of it all.

A near zero input system is clearly the one for you. If in the west
country then probably beef. For low work then single suckled beef. You
still have to handle vet bills and some feed for finishing and you will
need (probably a contactor) to make silage. You will probably want to be
organic so you can at least cash in on your near-zero-input (and
horribly low output) system. Yes, it could probably more-or-less break
even, some years do rather well.

>Mesolithic! Excellent. Here on Cape Cod Paleolithic are the local
>unmortared stone walls built before the second WW, Neolithic are the
>imported mortared stone walls built during the buildup in the 1980's. My
>wife (English) has "done" Somerset and her
>family lives in Hampshire. I was thinking Devon or Cornwall (where the
>towns have
>the same names we have here (Falmouth, Truro, Plymouth, Penzance...).

Providing you don't mind some isolation then inland cornwall/devon is
probably about ideal. Relatively warm, good rainfall and many (OK some
quite small) remnants of stone and early iron age sites.

>Almost surrounded by the sea and fishing. Woods Hole is on a peninsula.
>Locally a smallholding starts at 5 acres, but property prices and taxes
>make any legal crop unprofitable. I was thinking 50-100 acres for play
>and preservation, ~10 acres of it arable.

Hmm. Maybe some early potatoes or perhaps cut flowers (daffs)?

>Free range chickens.

Might be good in summer for the tourists, but I guess you would have to
deliver/sell yourself. They need bought in feed, which costs.


From: Oz <>
Newsgroups: sci.agriculture
Subject: Re: Crop values
Date: Thu, 16 Jul 1998 06:24:59 +0100

In article <>, Tim Powys-Lybbe
<> writes

>The thing that concerns me is that in England the farmers are so
>efficient that there are not a lot of them and thus they are not
>political hot potatoes.

Correct. However the countryside most definitely is. When footpaths
become over grown and there is nobody to clear them and the scenic
upland areas become covered in thorn and bracken and the watermeadows
become infested with thistles and stinging nettles then that may change.
Mind you the import cost of even a relatively moderate trade deficit in
food seriously impacts on trade balance which politicians have long
since forgotten.

>Might not the government decide that 1% of the
>population is not enough to worry about and leave us all to sink?  Why
>raise extra taxes to pay for set-aside might well be the cry...

Surplusses cost to store and export. Frankly given reasonable prices I
would not object to unpaid setaside. It's better to make a profit on 70%
than a loss on 100%.

I don't think agricultural prices have been properly grasped by either
politicians or public. We are in fact being expected to sell a crop and
earn a living at less than 1/10 of the real price 25 years ago. IIRC a
mini cost about 600 UKP then and it is the equivalent to being able to
buy a brand new mini for 500 UKP (or for that matter a brand new 4 bed
house for 15K!) today. The fact that we can muddle on for a few years at
these prices is quite incredible when you think about it. One reason is
that one can run down plant and machinery, but nobody could begin to
survive setting up a modern farm from scratch.


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