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County council farms still thriving in Dorset
THE general population could be forgiven for thinking county council farms are a thing of the past – the land sold off and the sites developed.
While this might have happened to some holdings it isn’t true that there is none left in the county.
More than 100 years after buying its first bit of land there are still 50 farms under Dorset County Council ownership and let out to tenants.
Dorset County Council tenant Kevin Goodfellow has been farming with his wife Kath and family at Higher Silkhay Farm, Netherbury since 1990 and has built up the business steadily over the years.
They currently supply their organic meat to Sainsburys and to Washingpool Farm.
The farm is now 144 acres, with around 180 beef continental beef cattle and 70 pedigree Poll Dorset sheep.
Mr Goodfellow said: “I always wanted to be a farmer. My father milked cows but we never owned land.
“I worked on a farm in Weymouth for 20 years and we milked sheep at Cerne before coming here.”
Mr Goodfellow said county council farms provided an ‘opening’ into farming, and although the business is not handed down through the generations, his son Ed has gained plenty of experience.
Tenants have to have a certain amount of capital and farming qualifications.
Rural support officer Jenny Stubbs said Dorset County Council bought its first block of agricultural land at Marnhull in 1911.
In 2000 the estate began its property review rationalisation programme.
Ms Stubbs said: “This programme was in response to the changing nature of agriculture and the need to ensure the estate continued to provide viable sized holdings with the correct facilities.”
The programme has seen the estate decrease from 84 farms down to 50 in 2013.
The area of land has remained relatively constant at 7,569 acres in 2000 compared to 6,400 acres today consisting of both ‘starter’ farms and ‘promotion’ farms for those moving on to bigger things. These farms are spread across Dorset, divided into 23 areas from Gillingham in the north of the county, with six in the Bridport area. By 2011 the property review had raised just under £12.9million since 2000, over half of which had been returned to the county council for investment into new schools and services, with the remainder being invested back into the estate.