We all look at the wealth of a Gates, Zuckerburg, Branson or Dyson with a mixture of awe and jealousy. How did they come up with their business ideas, what did they do to turn them into gold and could you do the same? Cedric Porter gets down to business.
Entrepreneurialism in farming is a hot topic as farmers faced with low commodity prices look for new ideas to boost incomes. It was a topic which featured strongly in this year’s Oxford Farming Conference (OFC) where organisers had commissioned a report into the subject from consultants Andersons and the Cranfield School of Management.
One headline which was picked up was that farming is less entrepreneurial than other industries and the discussion at the conference suggested the large number of long-established family businesses and the safety net of farm supports may be reasons why fewer take the risks and rewards that others might. But, a more important message was there is no reason why farmers should not be entrepreneurs and there are plenty of them around. So what does it take to turn the business dream into reality?
What is an entrepreneur?
US management consultant Peter Drucker said: “An entrepreneur always searches for change, responds to it, and exploits it as an opportunity.” And developing that theme Harvard professor Howard Stevenson said: “Entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled.”
Are entrepreneurs born or bred?
The OFC report says while some people may be more willing to take risks than others, everyone has an entrepreneurial ability within them if they become enthused and passionate about a business idea.
How suited is farming to entrepreneurialism?
The short answer has to be very, with most farmers having ready access to valuable assets such as land and buildings which others do not. For many there is the added security of a strong capital base, although this can be a double-edged sword which hinders risk-taking because of what is financially and emotionally at stake.
There are three basic groups of farming entrepreneurs. Those which add value to what they produce, those which use farming assets to develop new businesses and those which take a radical approach to existing operations.
A former dairy farm near Warwick which brews a range of beers, including bespoke beers which customers create alongside the farm’s brewer.
Growing and selling 17 varieties of potatoes in Northumberland delivered to retailers, restaurants and individual customers. Winner of the 2015 Farmers Guardian British Farming Arable Innovator of the Year award.
After building the Tyrrell’s Potato Chip brand, Mr Chase went on to developing an globally recognised potato-based vodka.
Heather and Phil Gorringe established their garden, composting and seed business on their Herefordshire farm. It is now a successful retail and mail order business.
A farm selling dried flowers and petals. Winner of the 2015 Farmers Guardian British Farming Digital Innovator of the Year.
Established as a small farm shop 40 years ago at Topsham, Devon. Now a major local food hub which includes a food hall, drinks hall, cafe, homes and interiors centre and spa. It was the winner of the 2015 FARMA Large Farm Shop of the Year. FARMA represents 500 farm shops, but there are many more in the country with about 500 farmers’ markets established over the last 20 years.
Louise Nicholl has built a bed and breakfast and holiday cottage business in Angus, Scotland. The latest part of the enterprise is to convert redundant grain silos into unique holiday lets.
A business park in Somerset incorporating nearly 20 businesses housed in redundant farm buildings. Offers high-speed broadband and business support.
Farmer Michael Eavis has created one of the world’s most high profile on-farm, non-farm businesses.
Farmer Chris Musgrave drove a scheme to bring together 10,000 hectares owned by 42 farmers to create a large-scale nature area attracting environmental funding.
A farm food and attraction site in Yorkshire which attracts 600,000 people a year and employs 200 people. Winner of the 2015 Farmers Guardian British Farming Diversification Innovator award.
Some farming entrepreneurs produce commodity crops, but they do it in a way which challenges convention.
Delivering yields and margin by improving soil quality and as he says ‘putting some science behind gut-feeling’. Runner up in the 2015 British Farming Arable Innovator award.
Started by the Barfoots family in the 1970s growing speciality vegetables on a small Hampshire County Council farm, the business now employs 200 people in the UK and through its Senegal subsidiary more than 1,000 in the African country.
A first generation farmer, Mr Law first managed Thrift Farm, in Hertfordshire, before taking it over in 1988. He now farms 1,600ha in the region, plus another 485ha in Nottinghamshire growing crops on contracts for a number of established food processors. He is the host of the 2016 Cereals Event.
By focusing on margins rather than just turnover, Tom and father Jem have built a profitable arable business in Kent.
Possible entrepreneurial farm enterprises...
Defra’s AgriTech strategy is focused on developing innovation in the agricultural sector. Agri-Tech East is fast gaining a reputation for supporting new and established businesses. www.agritech-east.co.uk
The Bettany Centre for Entrepreneurship. Successful entrepreneurship might be mainly about hard work, but honing skills can be useful. The Cranfield-based school has courses and information for entrepreneurs. www.som.cranfield.ac.uk
Start-up loans. The Government has created an agency to give support to small entrepreneurial businesses. www.startuploans.co.uk
Entrepreneur Clubs. There are business and entrepreneur clubs across the UK. Examples include The Edinburgh Entrepreneurship Club www.business-school.ed.ac.uk/eclub and Leeds and Sheffield’s The Entrepreneurs Club www.theentrepreneursclub.com/events.html
If you are a farming entrepreneur or know one, then why not celebrate success by entering Farmers Guardian’s British Farming Awards. See www.britishfarmingawards.co.uk for more details.