Ask Fred

A neighbouring farm just a mile away expanded by opening a shop and meat processing unit two years ago and it has been so successful that I'm now thinking of doing the same. Where do I start? T K-D

By taking a long hard look at whether your venture will be successful, as you are starting with a couple of distinct disadvantages. First, you have competition just a mile away and, as you say, it has been successful. Is there room for two farm shops in such close proximity to each other? Are you confident your location is as good and preferably better than the other farm? Secondly, the existing shop and unit has been trading for two years so will have built up a good head start with loyal customers. Do you have a unique selling point that will attract a different customer base and even some customers from the existing shop? If, for example, you farm rare-breed animals that you intend to sell the meat from, that will give you a point of distinction.

If you are satisfied you have the answers to the points just made, then draw up a business plan with realistic financial projections. Without any existing retail or manufacturing business of this type operating from the farm, there are quite a few things that will need to be sorted out, so it is vital you get the right people involved from the beginning, because what you intend to do is a change of use for the farm buildings.

Speak to as many professionals in your locality as you can and certainly contact your local authority's planning, environmental health and trading standards departments. Top of the list is the planning department. As the next-door farm has converted buildings into a shop and processing unit, there should not be too many problems but check early on, and show the planning officer your plans. Clear road access will be needed. Get your accountant involved, too, as your plans may not only affect the rateable value of your property, but may also attract a business rate and inheritance tax. Also on your 'to do' list should be satisfying your Environmental Health Officer (EHO), that you have a viable HACCP plan that shows you have identified the critical control points at your premises and the measures in place to ensure the safe handling, preparation and storage of meat. Then there are laws covering meat labelling, meat content, storage and temperature controls and so on. Your trading standards office will want to be satisfied on some of these issues. If your experience is almost completely farm-based, then enlist the help of bodies like Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board and Eblex. If you intend to have a butchery manager, try to find one now. And if there is a retired butcher in your area who could consult on issues such as shop and preparation area layout, then so much the better.

The hose and water gun I use to wash down my back room production area keeps breaking. I've been replacing it with a system sold at our local DIY store. Is there anything designed for food premises that does not leave smears marks on surfaces after a wash-down. DTV

If you have been using a domestic garden hose system, then it's not surprising that it leaves smears or breaks down. You should invest in an industrial system, designed for heavy-duty work; it will be more expensive to buy, but cheaper in the long run.

Specialists supply hoses in a variety of materials that include rubber, metallic and thermoplastic, together with a comprehensive array of end fittings, including cam and groove quick-release, tincan and foot valve strainers, lever lock, trench hose couplings and flanges. For a general wash-down, look for a trigger-operated water gun. Again there are some good models available that come with a protective rubber coating, allowing fingertip control of water usage in a variety of wash-down applications. They are suitable for water temperatures up to 90C and pressure up to 25 bar/367psi. Go for decent, heavy-duty accessories too, such as fixed or mobile reels, carriers and tidiers. Syspal, for example, supplies reels and guns, including a heavy-duty gun with a low-pressure sanitising system that claims to leave no bleach stains and kills bacteria, viruses, mould and algae. It uses a cleaning tablet system, with each tablet lasting more than three hours in continuous use. This will do your cleaning far more efficiently, saving time and money on additional cleaning materials.

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