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Could you be farming's Richard Branson?


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.

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What does it take to be an entrepreneur in agriculture? #business #arable

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.



Entrepreneurial traits:


    • Risk taker
    • Change manager
    • Hard and smart worker
    • Innovator
    • Dedicated
    • Perseverance in the face of adversity and obstacles
    • Highly focused
    • Self-motivated
    • Confident
    • Accountable for own success or failure
    • Work well under pressure
    • Their own boss
    • Passionate
    • Prepared to risk personal assets

Six ways to improve entrepreneurialism

    • Farmers should seek ways to add value to other people’s lives. The key to adding value to your own business is when trading parties both believe they will be better off as a result of it.
    • Engagement with farm and businesspeople helps to act as a catalyst for ideas and opportunity.
    • A farm is an excellent place from which to build an entrepreneurial business. Nurture the golden goose and it will lay golden eggs for you.
    • Create your own opportunities. Nobody gives them away if they can develop them for themselves.
    • Find ways to make better and fuller use of resources throughout the year.
    • Try new ideas, they might not work, but they certainly won't without pro-activity and persistence to find out.

Examples of farming entrepreneurs

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.

The value adders

Church Farm Brewery

A former dairy farm near Warwick which brews a range of beers, including bespoke beers which customers create alongside the farm’s brewer.

Carroll’s Heritage Potatoes

Carroll’s Heritage Potatoes

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.

Will Chase


After building the Tyrrell’s Potato Chip brand, Mr Chase went on to developing an globally recognised potato-based vodka.

Wiggly Wigglers

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.

Shropshire Petals


A farm selling dried flowers and petals. Winner of the 2015 Farmers Guardian British Farming Digital Innovator of the Year.

Darts Farm

Darts Farm

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.

The asset sweaters

Fothringham Farm

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.

Bowdens Farm

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.

Marlborough Downs Nature Improvement Are

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.

Cannon Hall Farm

Cannon Hall Farm

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.

The outside-the-boxers

Some farming entrepreneurs produce commodity crops, but they do it in a way which challenges convention.


Jake Freestone

Jake Freestone

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.

Barfoots of Botley


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.

Robert Law

Robert Law

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.


Tom Sewell

By focusing on margins rather than just turnover, Tom and father Jem have built a profitable arable business in Kent.

Possible entrepreneurial farm enterprises...


  • Agronomists as farmers: Agronomists have detailed agronomy skills often backed up with marketing knowledge. Combine the two with access to farmland and then successful production businesses could be grown.
  • Pharmaceutical crops: Health companies need medicines which are economical to supply. A niche, but potentially profitable crop.
  • Superfoods: A fickle, but again potentially profitable option. Latest example is flavonoids in fruits such as berries and apples which help control weight.
  • Going Mediterranean: The merits of the Mediterranean diet are getting more and more attention. Vegetables, especially tomatoes and peppers, and rapeseed oil fit the bill.
  • Specialist oils: One of the few crop products which has seen considerable growth over the last few years.
  • Free-from: Sales of gluten-free food have now topped £500 million, with the dairy-free sector also increasing. The UK organic market is approaching £2 billion a year.
  • Property development: One of the most common and, arguably, lowest risk farm-based entrepreneur activities. The need to build more homes and the desire of people to work closer to home in offices with fast broadband may create opportunities.
  • Cycling is the new golf. Golf club membership fell by 20% in the decade to 2013, while cycling could be worth £250bn to the UK economy in the next 35 years, according to a report by cycling charity CTC.

Support for entrepreneurs

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


Farm management support can be found at the Institute of Agricultural Management www.iagrm.org.uk, while Landex is the association of agricultural and land-based collegeswww.landex.org.uk


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.

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