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Coronavirus lockdown hits farm diversifications

When the Government announced its unprecedented lockdown measures, restricting people’s movement and closing businesses, many farm diversifications were forced to shut their doors.

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James Small, the Mendips, Somerset
James Small, the Mendips, Somerset
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Coronavirus lockdown hits farm diversifications

James Small, the Mendips, Somerset

 

James Small’s family farm 220 hectares (544 acres) of land, carrying about 1,200 breeding ewes and just over 100 suckler cows.

 

In 2010, they started a glamping business in conjunction with another company, which has five canvass lodges and two wooden lodges – due to be upgraded this year.

 

They have already had to offer to postpone all April bookings, and clients have cancelled their trips in May.

Mr Small said: “You do not ever make that money back up. If you do not sell the units over the Easter holidays, there is not another Easter, so it is just a loss.

 

“If we can maintain July and August, we will probably be somewhere around 45 per cent down on what we were last year.

 

“But we do not know what is happening. For all I know I might be 100 per cent down.”

 

Mr Small warned if the Basic Payment Scheme cuts go ahead as planned for England in 2021, it would now have a ‘serious impact’ on his business.

 

“Do not get me wrong, I was in disagreement with the Common Agricultural Policy from the start, but I think winding down one system while not even having a framework and understanding of how the new system is going to work is an issue.

 

“We have just seen lamb prices drop 50 per cent, the milk price has gone down, beef is remaining steady for the time being, but there are going to be crop production issues. We are looking at a really tough year for farming.”


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John Davies, Aberaeron, Wales

John Davies farms 150 hectares (371 acres) with his brother on the west coast of Wales, growing barley and running beef cattle and a small pedigree Charolais herd.

 

In 1999, the brothers built a go-kart track, which they had to close in mid-March because the helmets used by the go-karters could not be properly sanitised.

 

Mr Davies said: “During Easter and the summer time, we had hundreds of people booked to use the go-karts but we could not guarantee their safety or ours, so it was a no brainer to close.

 

“It is going to have a massive knock-on effect on the farm. Karting comes first when it is in season, because that is where the money is. It has taken an income away.”

 

Mr Davies has also had a problem getting his cattle to slaughter, because the retailers are looking for old cows for mince.

 

“I can see very little light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.

 

“It has affected our income on cattle, because we are not selling.

 

“Unless we open up soon, we are going to be down at least 90 per cent on last year, and last year was not a very good year.”

Andrew Prentice, Isle of Iona, Inner Hebrides

 

Andrew Prentice runs a 95-hectare (235-acre) cattle and sheep farm on the Isle of Iona.

 

Two and a half years ago, he decided to open up a holiday pod to take advantage of the big tourism market on the island. He said: “I would say the money from the pod is normally around a third of our income on-farm.

 

“It was fully booked for April, May and June, and I have already cancelled people from April and May.

 

“I have left June open, but I have got a funny feeling I am going to cancel them too.”

 

Mr Prentice is facing a double loss because the meat from his farm supplies the local hotels, which have also closed.

 

He has calculated he stands to lose around £1,300 a month on meat sales, and will have to use his support payments to stay afloat rather than investing in livestock.

 

“They are pushing us down the route of diversification, which is great, but in this situation we are really stuck,” he said.

Caroline Millar, South Angus, Scotland

Caroline Millar, South Angus, Scotland

Ms Millar and her family farm 260 hectares (642 acres) producing Scotch beef, Scotch lamb and a mix of malting barley and wheat.

 

In 2005, she set up a luxury hideaway business offering five star experiences for couples on romantic breaks.

 

The plan was to build a fifth eco lodge to join the four already in use in the near future, at a cost of £300,000, but Ms Millar now expects to use that money to stay afloat after the business was forced to close. She said.“We have about £80,000 worth of bookings sitting in the next two or three months.

 

“There are things we will save money on like cleaning, but there are other things we cannot stop paying like electricity and insurance. I think we will be £100,000 down at least.”

 

Ms Millar also facilitates the agri-tourism monitor farms in Scotland, so works closely with many different agri-tourism businesses.

 

She believes other farmers, who use the cash from their diversifications to keep the core business running, will be worse off.

 

“I am working with monitor farms who have sold £20,000 worth of farm tours for the spring and summer, lambing experiences and things, and some of them have spent the cash already,” she said.

 

Though the next few months are expected to be difficult, Ms Millar still believes the industry can bounce back and is urging businesses to use this time to build up their online profile.

 

She said: “As soon as this is lifted, there is going to be a massive opportunity for our sector, because people will have been in a flat in the middle of a city for three or four months and they are probably just wanting to quickly escape to the countryside. We as a sector need to be ready to take advantage of that.”

 

Hamish Hayman, Yeovil, Somerset

 

Hamish Hayman, his father and two brothers run a 240-hectare (593-acre) dairy and pig farm in Yeovil, Somerset.

 

After managing a meat business selling direct to the public for several years, the family bought a derelict farmstead to build a new farm shop and cafe.

 

Mr Hayman, said: “The cafe was the driver of the business until the brakes went on this weekend.

 

“We had all the guys in the cafe and then custom fell off the earth.”

 

When the lockdown was announced, the cafe was closed, and the family’s immediate concern was their 11 staff, who are going to be enrolled on the Government’s furloughed workers scheme so they can keep at least 80 per cent of their wages.

 

Now, Mr Hayman is running the farm shop on a one-in-one-out basis, with new hand washing measures, and has seen a huge increase in demand.

 

“We had people come in yesterday and today who did not know we were here. They have not used somebody local before, but all of a sudden we have product they need.

 

“The cafe has kept us in business in the past, but it has quite high overheads, so when we come through the other side, a lot of decisions will be based on what happens now.

 

“If we can run around half of what we need without bills, that is better than having to worry about staff and holidays.”

Hamish Hayman, Yeovil, Somerset

 

Hamish Hayman, his father and two brothers run a 240-hectare (593-acre) dairy and pig farm in Yeovil, Somerset.

 

After managing a meat business selling direct to the public for several years, the family bought a derelict farmstead to build a new farm shop and cafe.

 

Mr Hayman, said: “The cafe was the driver of the business until the brakes went on this weekend.

 

“We had all the guys in the cafe and then custom fell off the earth.”

 

When the lockdown was announced, the cafe was closed, and the family’s immediate concern was their 11 staff, who are going to be enrolled on the Government’s furloughed workers scheme so they can keep at least 80 per cent of their wages.

 

Now, Mr Hayman is running the farm shop on a one-in-one-out basis, with new hand washing measures, and has seen a huge increase in demand.

 

“We had people come in yesterday and today who did not know we were here. They have not used somebody local before, but all of a sudden we have product they need.

 

“The cafe has kept us in business in the past, but it has quite high overheads, so when we come through the other side, a lot of decisions will be based on what happens now.

 

“If we can run around half of what we need without bills, that is better than having to worry about staff and holidays.”

Chris Cardell, Truro, Cornwall

Chris Cardell, a county council tenant, runs a dairy farm with pedigree Jerseys in Truro, Cornwall, alongside boarding kennels and a cattery.

 

Over the past 15 years, he has grown the kennels and cattery side of the business, but has had to scale the operation down since the lockdown was imposed. Mr Cardell said: “We have not been able to close it, because we have a handful of pets from customers who are stuck in various parts of the world and cannot get back, but we have cancelled bookings from early- to mid-summer,”

 

“Pretty well most of the on-farm diversifications do need people to be able to travel in one way or another.”

 

Mr Cardell has already had to lay off his part-time staff, but is hoping to protect his full-time workers by enrolling them in the Government’s furloughed workers scheme.

 

He said: “Over the last few years, diversifications have helped to secure the businesses in a lot of cases, but now it has flipped the other way.

 

“We are just keeping our fingers crossed that the farming side does not come under the same sort of pressure.”

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