Adam Henson - Farmers are finding ever more imaginative ways of diversifying
PUBLISHED: 16:08 07 November 2012 | UPDATED: 22:18 20 February 2013
Farmers are finding ever more imaginative ways of diversifying, from camel trekking to rock festivals, as Adam Henson discovers
Farmers lives and livelihoods are determined by the weather. Its not just crop growth which depends on the right amount of rain and sunshine at the right time. Lambing, shearing, sowing, ploughing, spraying and harvesting are just some of the tasks that are affected by the elements.
This year has been particularly troublesome with drought conditions in March leading to widespread hosepipe bans followed by the wettest summer for a century. So, many farmers will be thankful that theyve diversified to other business ventures.
Finding new sources of income away from traditional farming can also be a lifeline if your livestock fall victim to animal disease or global commodity prices go against you. That said, its still a surprise to discover that the most recent figures from DEFRA reveal that half of all the farms in England have diversified in one way or another, creating a total income of 360 million.
The first, tentative steps towards providing an alternative income stream came in the late 1960s and early 70s when people realised the potential of spare rooms and barn conversions as farmhouse B&Bs. At the same time an enterprising young dairy farmer in Somerset called Michael Eavis moved his herd off their pasture and invited rock bands to stage a concert on the land.
More than four decades later, the Glastonbury Festival proves that a little innovation can be a long-term earner. My dad, Joe, was also something of a diversification pioneer when he created the first ever farm park in 1971. His intention was first and foremost to showcase the British rare breed livestock hed been so passionate about since childhood. But as others began copying not only his idea but also the name hed given the venture, it became obvious that farm parks were here to stay.
By the 1980s diversifying your business had become popular and widespread as specialist advisors began springing up; stable blocks were converted to office suites, meadows were turned into campsites and outhouses became farm shops. Today there are all manner of inspiring farm businesses from yoghurt factories and equine physiotherapy to zorbing courses and camel trekking.
And just when you think youve heard it all, along comes another amazing business idea. One well-known country character who lives not far from me sold his dairy herd a few years ago and now rents out the former milking parlour to a food artist who uses the space to make life-size sculptures out of chocolate!
Farming is a unique and wonderful vocation but, as the past year has proved, its an unpredictable way of earning a living. So for many the key to successful and profitable agriculture is to have a pinch of imagination and a pocketful of courage.