What is the future of our country’s food production?


Ian Bell OBE reflects on the future of our country’s self-sufficiency.

The Second Reading of the Agriculture Bill in the Lower House poses more questions than answers but it confirms the Secretary of State’s direction of travel.  Since Michael Gove’s speech at the Oxford Farming Conference in January, his consultation ‘Health and Harmony’ and now the Agriculture Bill, one certainty is that any farm support is going to focus on public goods and I find it incredible that ‘food’ is not considered to be a public good.

For the first time in forty-five years the overall amount of money dedicated for farm support will be decided by HM Treasury,not the European Commission, through the Common Agricultural Policy.  Whatever your views about our European partners, the vociferous and sometime rebellious nature of the French and German farmers have helped the UK farmer reach a more advantageous deal.  Now we are on our own arguing around the cabinet table with Health, Education, Defence and other departments.  Although the white paper suggests that the Basic Payment Scheme will have a seven-year taper, it is unprecedented for a government to commit funding beyond the length of a Parliament and will be subject to spending reviews.  The prospect of drawing down seven years of payments at the outset could be quite appealing.

Attending a seminar hosted by the Dutch Ambassador to the UK and Promar International we debated what was a ‘public good’.  We covered water, carbon, biodiversity, energy, leisure, obesity, education but what wasn’t discussed was the one thing that everyone in the country should be concerned about – food!

I do have some sympathy with one aspect of  the Secretary of State’s strategy and that is  we must look after our soils.  The advent of Oilseed Rape in the seventies gave us a break crop that was profitable.  On many heavy clay soils we have been growing wheat and oilseed rape back-to-back and in doing so we now have uncontrollable levels of blackgrass. The under-drainage schemes we put in with funding from the EU Farm and Horticultural Scheme are breaking down and organic matter levels are abysmal.  Whilst I agree we must embrace science, we should also not forget history and remember why Viscount Townshend invented the ‘Norfolk 4-Course Rotation’ in the 18th Century.

The tragedy of the Foot and Mouth Epidemic in 2001 led to the demise of the MAFF – the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and the dawning of DEFRA – the Ministry of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.  In the Dutch elections last November, the new coalition government re-instated a dedicated Ministry of Agriculture with its own Minister.  Should we be looking for a similar change here?  Can DEFRA, as a department, deal fairly with the conflicts of delivering public goods and producing food or is everyone content to allow our level of self-sufficiency in food to fall to 50% or even lower?

I’d be interested to hear your views.  You can call us or email me – I’d love to tell you about the livestock and arable farmers we’re helping to grow, develop and diversify as they deal with some of these issues.


    by Ian Bell OBE, Head of Farm & Rural Engagement

The Dartmoor Inn – FOLK2FOLK helps local chefs grow their new business


Having worked together for 20 years, business partners Philip and Andrew have earned and grown their reputations through their time at the Dartmoor Inn, having turned it into a well-respected gastro-pub over the years, mainly thanks to Andrew and Philip’s cooking and making the Inn a great place to stay, eat or just pop in for a pint after a walk on the moor.

In 2014, Philip decided to go into a business partnership with Andrew and create their own catering business as the opportunity to buy the Inn together became an option for them. The business plan was to run and expand the Inn and additionally set up the Outside Inn to grow their catering business to serve private functions across Cornwall and Devon. The lads borrowed £300k which was used to buy the property with some of the funds going towards a refurb to breathe some fresh life into the Inn, including updates to the guest and dining rooms.

Owners of Dartmoor Inn in Devon

How did FOLK2FOLK help?

Philip was introduced to Folk2Folk by one his suppliers, Philip Warren, whom he had used for 40 years. After meeting with Folk2Folk to run through the business plan and discuss the security (property) in question, Philip says he was given a decision in a matter of days and the finance was in place within a month to jointly buy the Dartmoor Inn.

“Without Folk2Folk saying yes to our business, I wouldn’t want to think where we would be now without the loan. The banks wouldn’t even entertain us as a new business despite our previous experience of working together for close to 20 years. Getting the yes from Folk2Folk was a lifesaver for our business as we were really happy to fill a finance gap that allowed us to build, grow and invest in both our pub and catering business,” Philip Burgess, Dartmoor Inn co-owner.

The growth in the Outside Inn catering business has enabled Philip and Andrew to employ a head chef at the Inn, meaning Andrew can set more time aside to create and develop menus for the catering side of the business.

“Dealing with Folk2Folk was a refreshing experience as they believed in our plans and we are now achieving what we set out to do and more. The initial pub to catering ratio was 80:20 but now revenues have increased significantly and are more like 50:50. We expect the catering business over time to be the main source of revenue as we expect to reach £600k this year as combined total.”

Outside cuisine at Dartmoor Inn

Philip decided that a flexible loan with interest only repayments suited the business at the time for its flexibility. Philip and Andrew want to maintain ownership of the Inn long-term, so their plan is to refinance the loan sometime in the future. This will allow them to repay the capital as the business grows when it suits them.

With the business driving forward, both Philip and Andrew are focused on making the Dartmoor Inn a destination pub for tourists and locals, allowing it to reach its full potential for serving amazing food, at the same time increasing awareness of the catering business to push boundaries in delivering outstanding creative menus for their clients.

Dartmoor Inn – www.dartmoorinn.com