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Government blamed for Classic Herd shop closure

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JERSEY’S only independent dairy – Classic Herd – is scaling back and closing its farm shop, blaming a lack of support from the States as one of the main reasons for the decision.

The dairy made history when it challenged a monopoly that prevented farmers from selling their milk to the public but, 13 years on, its owners have decided to cut the farm’s herd by more than half.

The Classic Herd shop in St Peter will open for the final time on Saturday, and owner Darren Quénault said the decision of former Environment Minister Steve Luce to reject plans for 65 first-time-buyer homes on one of his farm’s fields had been a significant contributing factor.

The minister rejected the parish-led and Andium Homes-backed Ville du Manoir scheme for a number of reasons including that it would breach the Island Plan because the site is an area of high-quality agricultural land.

In addition, Mr Quénault’s son, Chas, has also taken the decision to leave farming, with his father saying he sees ‘no real future’ in it.

The closure comes in the same week that ministers lodged their Government Plan, which outlines plans for a single Future Economy Programme to focus on improving productivity across finance, agriculture, retail, hospitality and tourism as well as emerging sectors such as digital.

The plan pledges that the government will ‘protect our important tourism, fisheries and agriculture sectors, not least by offering support to firms to invest in productivity improvement’. It contains no further references to farming or agriculture, but developing a new Island Plan in conjunction with Islanders is a priority.

Two years ago Classic Herd made headlines when it made a six-figure investment in two computer-operated robotic milking machines that remove the need for manpower.

Although the farm will still run following the closure, it will have a much smaller number of cattle – down from 80 at its height to just 30. It will supply just two milk-vending machines. One of those already runs at Manor Farm and the other will be added at Co-op Grand Marché in St Helier in September. Cheese production has already ceased and yoghurts will follow suit soon.

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Mr Quénault, who has farmed in Jersey for 38 years and runs the business with his wife, Julia, and Chas, said he felt that the government should be giving better support not only to the Island’s first-time buyers but also to farmers.

‘We were willing sellers of our land for the village development and part and parcel of us agreeing to sell our land for the first-time buyers was we were going to plough the money back into the farm and carry on,’ he said. ‘Subsequent to that my son, with all of that going on or not, has had a change of heart. There is no real future in farming and he doesn’t want to carry on.’

He added that a decision had to be taken about whether it was worth investing in the farm’s future, and said that shopping habits in the area had also changed in the 14 years the shop had been open.

‘Fourteen years ago there wasn’t an M&S up the road, and Iceland, and no Morrisons and Tesco in St Ouen. Times have changed.’

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Asked how the decision to close the shop had left him feeling, he said that the farm would still keep going but would be ‘nothing like it was, or what it could have been’.

‘Do I think the Island needed first-time-buyer houses? Yes,’ he said. ‘Am I upset for the 65 people that should have had a home? Yes. Do I think everything is being done to help out young local people on this Island? Probably not.’

He added that the government should strive harder to look after farmers who were still working.

In 2003 Mr Quénault was so dissatisfied with the way the industry was being run, and with the low price dairy producers were being paid, that he considered quitting. At that time farmers were receiving 28.5p a litre, compared to an estimated break-even point of 32p, yet the retail price was rising.

As a result he embarked on a fight to break a 50-year ban on dairy farmers processing their own milk for sale to the public which involved protracted negotiations with the Jersey Milk Marketing Board and Jersey Dairy, legal action and political lobbying. Eventually Classic Farm milk and cheese went on sale to the public in November 2006, later expanding to include a range of 34 products including yoghurt and cheese, some versions of which have represented the Island around the world in food competitions.

The farm shop is due to reopen in August as ‘Classic Pets’ pet shop, while the other businesses in the yard, including the tearoom and dog groomer, are unaffected by the closure.

Lucy Stephenson

By Lucy Stephenson
author

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