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The landowners will not allow our cows to graze the land

We apologise for the radio silence since the Fernham Homes planning application to build 180 houses was refused. The landowners wanted to demonstrate to the council that the land is readily available for development. To this end, our grazing license that allowed us to farm the land expired in September 2023 was not renewed. Behind the scenes, since the council refused the application in April, we have been trying to negotiate with the land owner for their permission for our cows to graze this land again.

Nearly a thousand of our customers raised objections and this certainly helped our councillors refuse the application just over a month ago. This was a fantastic result, saving the land we have farmed all our lives, and rented from the landowners for over 50 years, from development. 

If the application had been approved, then Fernham Homes would have bought the land from the local landowning family for quite a few million pounds. However, as the council refused the application on these forty acres for housing, the land has not been granted change of use from agricultural land to development land. Therefore, it remains at agricultural value (approximately £500,000) instead of having development value (£15M to £20M)

As a consequence, the landowning family, who have not been able to sell the land for millions of pounds to Fernham Homes, have not allowed us to return onto the land. This is very sad, as the two families have known each other since the 1950s. I have asked the family four times since the council refused the application and they will not allow us to use the land we have farmed organically for 25 years, and conventionally before that. It appears that whilst a developer is allowed to put in a planning application on their land, we are not allowed to object to the application. It feels as though the landowning family are punishing us for objecting to the application which ultimately was refused.

This action by the landowning family has not yet caused our business harm, as it has been such a wet spring; there has been greater than usual grass growth, and we are managing for the first month of not being able to graze the landowners’ land, to keep our milk yield up. However, this will be short-lived. Our grazing will come under severe pressure in the next couple of months when grass growth slows down and we won’t have enough grass. Our milk production will decrease meaning we won’t have enough milk for all our customers. This is particularly painful with the 40 acres of the best grassland on the farm, and there is some wonderful grass there at the moment: lush, leafy and 18 inches tall, not being used, just going to waste. Make of this situation what you will. Is the landowning family ‘teaching us a lesson’?

For anyone visiting the farm, it seems total madness. As you approach the farm, you will see the fields on the left, full of lush organic grass. There is no doubt, it’s a very fertile, productive piece of agricultural land! Thank goodness it has been saved from development and kept in farming, even if it isn’t by us, but for future generations when food production will be viewed as a higher priority than it is by today’s planning policy makers.

Coming back to our desperate situation, what are we going to do? We are forming a plan at the moment to bring freshly cut grass in from another organic farm about four miles away, to give to our cows out in the fields. Our fields will, in a month or two’s time, not have any grass for the cows as they will be grazing it too tightly and the grass won’t have a chance to fully re-grow. By bringing in freshly cut organic grass to our cows, we will be able to keep our milk yield up and maintain our service to our customers. However, we will need some specialist equipment to do this and will be launching a crowd funding campaign very soon to help us buy the equipment we need, to get through this summer, without cutting production and losing jobs on the farm.

We’ve survived big issues with your help before, hopefully we can do it again!

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Bad news. We will try to keep supporting you as long as we can. The landowning family may well be not pleased with your attitude. We are powerless since they 'own' the land.

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