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Business special: How diversification is changing the definition of the farmer

Diversification is not only a huge business opportunity for UK farmers, but it is also the next stage in the evolution of the agriculture industry.

 

Agriculture business development manager at Kubota UK Rob Edwards tells us more. 

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How diversification is changing the definition of the farmer

It is fair to say that farmers everywhere are having to face a myriad of obstacles in order to ensure that food production continues at the current rate and their businesses remain competitive.

 

From extreme weather conditions and the well-publicised skills shortage, to the economic instability and political uncertainty currently being fuelled by events such as Brexit, the agricultural sector is going through a period of upheaval.

 

As the Basic Payment Scheme – previously the Single Farm Payment Scheme – is phased out over the next few years and we pull away from the Common Agricultural Policy, it has become clear that if farmers do not add more sources of income to their basic business models, they are in danger of going out of business.

 

In fact, Defra recently released its latest statistics on the total income from farming in the UK, which revealed that these levels had fallen by £721 million (-18 per cent) to £3,358 million in 2018.

 

But this figure actually only shows one side of the coin.


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In reality, over recent years we have seen the agricultural industry both accept these challenges and also embrace new ways of working in order to drive change and manage farms effectively.

 

As such, the traditional definition of the ‘farmer’ has seen a shift.

 

Those working within the industry are no longer solely labourers and traders. Instead, they are agricultural managers – driving their businesses forward into the future into the new age of farming.

 

The farmer: A new definition

As part of this shift, diversification is increasingly being seen as a great business opportunity.

 

At its heart, diversifying simply means becoming a better business manager – and thinking outside the box – in order to ensure that farms survive and thrive in the uncertain times we are living through.

 

This could involve selling something else, be it produce or something less tangible, like access to surrounding areas or the environmental aspects of their land, or providing services.

 

Across the country, there are many examples of farm workers who have diversified effectively and who are multitasking in order to have multiple sources of income.

 

For example, when planning permission was passed for the M6 to be built through their farm, the Dunning family decided to create a cafe that sold local produce from their land.

 

Forty-seven years later, they are running a successful multi-service business.

 

Leisure activities could be another profitable avenue worth exploring – just look at the rise in park runs, ‘Tough Mudders’ and festivals over the last decade or so.

 

Land which is less likely to be used in farming could be recycled and put into providing leisure activities.

 

This not only grants farm workers extra income but also enables more time to be spent on the more favourable land and thereby increasing productivity and meeting agronomic needs.

 

But, for the UK’s farming community, diversifying does not just have to be providing non-agricultural based services, such as eateries or camping holidays.

Over the years, many farms have also become specialised, focusing efforts on one type of livestock or crop production depending on market need or personal preference.

 

However, adopting a mixed farming policy could minimise risk and open the door to new opportunities.

 

Those with lots of experience in the industry have valuable knowledge and skillsets that could also be packaged up and sold to neighbouring farms in a consultancy role, so the possibilities of diversification are seemingly endless.

 

Those looking to implement this strategy are able to be creative and play to their personal strengths.

 

Diversification is not only a huge business opportunity for UK farmers, but it is also the next stage in the evolution of the agriculture industry.

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