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The top 10 diversification trends for UK farmers to look out for

As farmers look for more ways to boost their income, Danusia Osiowy and Emily Ashworth take a look at 10 diversification ideas.

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Brew a beer

Brew a beer

The UK craft beer industry is booming and the number of microbreweries in the UK has increased from 1,218 in 2012 to more than 2,000 this year – a level not seen since 1930.

 

To meet this demand, the UK hop area has also grown, up 8 per cent in 2016 to 942 hectares (2,328 acres) and another 4 per cent in 2017 to 980ha (2,422 acres).

 

With just over 50 hop farmers in the UK at present, the British Hop Association advises anyone looking to grow hops would need to plant a minimum of 10ha (24.7 acres) to make it a worthwhile enterprise, but 25ha (61.7 acres) is more feasible.

Wedding venue

With statistics showing only about 27 per cent of couples now choose a church or religious building for their wedding ceremony, alternative venues are hot topics.

 

Wedding venue business consultant Kelly Chandler says: “Today, the UK wedding market is a £10 billion industry and farm weddings can be fun and stylish, with couples being able to choose a converted livestock barn, beautifully restored, or a historic farmhouse dating back to the 15th century for the ceremony.

 

“Converted barns are as stylish as you will find anywhere – with their rustic charm contributing to a truly romantic atmosphere and ability to transform itself into a party setting for the evening entertainment.”

forestry

Forestry

Forestry can be the forgotten asset on farms. But biomass heating systems and multi-fuel household stoves have helped market demand.

 

These markets utilise lower value forestry products, increasing utilised timber and decreasing waste from felling operations.

 

Favourable Government grant schemes for felling and replanting offer woodland owners change to make positive returns on their assets and bring woodland back into productivity.

 

Softwood saw logs average £44.19/cu.m in the six months to September 2016, representing a 13.6 per cent increase on the year.

 

UK domestic timber production has increased by 1.19 million cu.m over the last 10 years, with construction remaining the largest market.

Free-range eggs

 

Free-range egg production could offer opportunities for farmers struggling with sheep and dairy enterprises as demand grows.

 

Bruton Knowles rural sector specialist Gareth Lay said he had seen an increasing amount of farmers looking into free-range production or expanding units as they gear up for changes in farm support after 2022.

 

Supermarkets and consumers have increasingly turned away from caged bird eggs, creating opportunities for farms.

 

“While the costs are fairly high to start, there are high rewards. Returns from the sector are significant given the fairly small area of land required,” says Mr Lay.

 

“New sheds cost anything from £700,000-£1.2 million for units to house 16,000-32,000 birds respectively.

care farming

Care farming

 

Care Farming is becoming an increasingly popular venture, the idea being to utilise land and space to help facilitate recovery in vulnerable individuals.

 

With about 250 care farms currently operating in the UK, farm businesses across the country open their doors to a range of people – from troubled teenagers to former prison offenders and patients with dementia – to provide them with structure and stimulation in their everyday lives.

 

Most service users attend one of these locations between one and three times per week, where activities range from therapeutic contact with livestock to horticultural and environmental classes.

 

And the rise in care farms is on the increase, with more 100 care farms in various stages of development for the future.

Crafts

 

With the uptake in interest for learning traditional crafts, many farms and rural businesses now give you the chance to take classes or courses, offering insights into heritage practices such as spinning, weaving or demonstration days.

 

The estimated contribution the rural sector makes to the national creative economy is £500 million per annum and the future looks bright for this sector.

 

Michael Hart, chairman of the Rural Cultural Fund, says: “There is still enormous untapped creative potential and entrepreneurial/cultural capacity available within the rural sector to help improve upon this total even further.”

 

And Lynn de Bersacques, from Craft Course, says there has been many farms are diversifying into craft courses.

 

In particular, she says, sheep and alpaca farms which run ’fleece to felt’ or spinning workshops where you can meet the sheep then process the wool into useable fabrics.

 

"We have definitely seen a marked rise in interest for traditional crafts, as we increasingly work on touch screens and computers, that basic human desire/need to connect with our environment on a sensory and tactile level gets stronger. Anyone who has split logs, forged metal, made felt or fixed a stone wall will tell you how deeply satisfying it feels," she says.

cooking

Cooking and baking

 

Food provenance and sourcing the freshest ingredients goes hand-in-hand with farming, so placing a cookery school/business on-farm could be the perfect way to utilise your product.

 

Recent successful TV shows such as the Great British Menu have put a spotlight on the importance of Britain’s farmers and more so, highlighted the interest the public have about the origins of their food.

 

Rachel Billington, who owns culinary farm diversification business, Bowl and Whisk with her mother, Janet, runs it from their family dairy farm in Cheshire.

 

Creating their treats in the farmhouse kitchen, their main audience is captured through online marketing and they were, says Rachel, attracted to homemade and local products using British ingredients.

Pets

 

In 2017, £4.6 billion was spent on pets and related pet products in the UK.

 

This number has risen from £2.55bn in 2005, proving that the pet industry could be an ever-growing market to try and break in to.

 

With the need for people to leave their beloved companions in a safe, loving and secure environment, your farm could provide the perfect space to start a kennel or cattery business.

 

Martin Loxton, owner of Belvoir Boarding Kennels, Colston Bassett, Nottinghamshire, took the plunge more than 30 years ago, and believes the space a farm can offer for exercising and walks is very attractive to pet owners.

 

"We have a total of eight acres, secured around the perimeters, where we exercise the dogs.

"We did it because we needed to increase the income of a small family farm.

 

"My background in livestock farming and caring for animals is so important. It is still establishing itself as a business, even now and the turnover from that side of the business is considerably more than the farming side."

Nature

Nature

 

There are multiple schemes available that can help you benefit from the land and environment around your farm by helping to preserve it.


The Higher Tier Countryside Stewardship Scheme provides incentives for land managers to look after their environment.


Open to farmers, woodland owners, foresters and other land managers, your eligibility will be assessed through a competitive application process and within this scheme, there are multiple ventures to explore including habitat restoration and creation, woodland improvement, woodland creation and associated maintenance, and protection and enhancement of the historic environment.

Energy

 

Subsidies for renewable energy may not be as favourable as they were five years ago but that should not put off those thinking of developing a new project.

 

Not only do most technologies still carry Government subsidies, the provide energy security, which, at a time of rising energy prices, could be a worthwhile investment - particularly if your farm uses a lot of electricity.

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