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Harvest to festivals: How farmers are diversifying to thrive

The changing financial landscape led to a radical rethinking of the farming structure, and an assessment of options outside the traditional sphere. take a look at how farmers are diversifying their offering.

Agriculture has always had a significant impact on local British communities and the rural landscape, however, its position in the overall economy is something that’s constantly changing.

There’s no denying that during the economic downturn many farmers in Britain were struggling to make a living. The changing financial landscape led to a radical rethinking of the farming structure, and an assessment of options outside the traditional sphere.

Many farm owners sought to enhance their household income from other sources by diversifying their business activities and using their farm’s resources for non-agricultural, commercial gain.

However, today, as we wander around the abundance of farmers’ markets that have cropped up across the country, it can be difficult to remember the harsh realities that once were.

Now, according to a recent Government report (Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs), the agricultural industry in the UK ‘is going from strength to strength in its contribution to economic growth’.

But even today as the landscape improves, diversification continues to be a popular option for farmers – and it makes complete sense.

Farm Business Survey 2013/14 states that 58% of farm businesses in England had some form of diversified activity; an increase of 2% from the previous year’s survey.

The survey also found that ‘the proportion of farms with a diversified activity other than the letting of buildings was 37%’ and estimated the total income from diversified activities as ‘£490 million’.

On average, diversified enterprises generated 19% of the total income of farm businesses and for farmers thinking about diversification, there are plenty of options: from tourism, sport and recreation to the letting of buildings and non-agricultural contracting.

With festival season on the horizon, we draw attention to one of the more exciting diversification options for farmers.

The Glastonbury festival held on Worthy Farm may have been one of the first but since then many others have followed suit, with Farm Fest in Somerset, Standon Calling in Hertfordshire and The Wickerman Festival in Dumfries and Galloway being some of the most recent. spoke to farmer and festival host, Harry Pearman about running a farm, family business and Standon Calling festival.

Can you tell us a little about your farm?

So the farm has been in the family for a few generations now (the farm in question being on my father’s side, as my mother’s side of the family also run a farm alongside their care home and residential property business) and has always been run by my father, grandfather and his father.

They have always lived and farmed in the local area, Hertfordshire and the farm used to have cattle and various other livestock. However within the last 25 years it has been predominantly arable and completely arable within the last 15. 

What’s the best part about running a farm?

Despite having to go through gruelling 17/18 hour days, the best part is actually during harvest in July and August, as you're able to see all the hard work that you've put in throughout the year all come to fruition.

It’s the 'make or break' time of year where every effort counts. If you have a good harvest with good yields and good quality crops then this can have a major impact on your turnover.

How did having the festival on your land come about?

Standon Calling started 10 years ago in the Lordship next door as the Lord and Lady's eldest son's birthday party. He threw together a few straw bales with one of his mates on a guitar and a few cases of beer and they all sat around singing the night away.

The following year they had a stage (if you could call it that) put together out of a few wood palettes with a friend singing and a slightly larger group of friends. From then on it has grown and grown from being a birthday shindig with 50 mates to a 10,000 people festival.

It has taken a lot of work along the way and now it is not only a birthday party but a full-time business that is cared for all year round with planning, booking acts, capacity and licensing laws etc.

What advantages does the festival provide?

The festival simply rents the land off of us. Instead of growing cereal crops like we usually do with the other fields, rye grass is grown and then cut for silage before the festival so that the party-goers can walk across grassland rather than course stubble.

The joys of the festival bring much more to us than just economic income as the whole community come together for the weekend - it’s become a major part of everyone’s summer.

What attributes would you say you need to be a successful farmer?

Resilience, patience and a willingness to work hard. The advancements in machinery and technology mean that there is now very little man power needed to run a farm compared to 30 years ago - nowadays one man could run a farm of 700/800 acres almost all year round (apart from harvest).

However, no matter how many people you have working, it is still tough work with long hours. Not only do you have to be a farmer but also a mechanic as a lot of time is spent on the maintenance and upkeep of the farm machinery.

What words of advice would you give to anyone thinking about buying a farm?

Think about it carefully. Many people who haven't been brought up around a farming lifestyle tend not to be suited to it as many students trying to earn some summer pocket money find out.

It takes a lot of hard graft which is very rewarding but the effort has to be put in in the first place. It's no short-term project and can be very much a generation game. However, if that suits you and your family then in my eyes there aren't many better lifestyles to have.

Are thinking about buying a farm? Or do you own one already? Let us know how you’ve diversified your business

Melanie Luff

About the author

Mel wrote for all titles in the Dynamis stable including, and as well as other global industry publications.


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