Farm Diversification Thoughts

This week I have been out and about at a couple of events which have been very interesting and which I thought I would share with you all.

On Wednesday, I headed to the Farm Innovation Show at the NEC, Birmingham. Several hundred stands later, and judging by the number of people which attended (you couldn’t walk in some of the aisles!) it is evident that farm diversification projects, and ideas, are going strong and its unsurprising really. This week we have seen in the news that farming is under threat because of the weather – the amount of rain has left the ground unworkable. The result of this? Less crops – farmers can’t do what they need to and this will impact upon farm incomes.

Diversification has always been part of the rural economy and farm activity. Ten years ago, in 2009, I wrote my undergraduate dissertation on whether or not farm diversification was critical to farming incomes and even then, it was proving to be of importance. Since then farmers are under more pressure to produce more food whilst being subjected to more and more regulation and being completely hammered by consumers as to their prices. There really isn’t an industry like it and it cannot continue if we all want food on our plates…

So – the Farm Innovation Show demonstrates that there are many options out there from glamping to farm shops but what strikes me is that the vast majority of this is all dependant on gaining planning consent for the relevant activity through change of use applications or consent for buildings and infrastructure (or indeed a combination of the two). There are many things to consider when diversifying including costings, how much you will charge, what your return will be, how will it impact on existing and ongoing farming activities, how will you manage it and how will you advertise it. Then there are the other, important, things to consider like how it could affect inheritance tax planning through a potential loss of agricultural property relief.

On Friday, I went to the Your Horse Live event at Stoneleigh. This highlighted a few things for me (aside from the fact that horse people will buy the most bizarre items from spray on glitter and Christmas party hats for horses to equine pick and mix treat buckets….and this makes me smile).

So many people buy or rent land and are not aware of the planning implications of equine use. Grazing a horse is the equivalent of taking a crop of grass through grazing and can fall within the definition of agriculture. Beyond this it does not. By the time everyone has plonked their lovely new purchases from a hay bar to pink tub buckets and jumps in a field, starts putting on brightly coloured rugs and supplementary feeding – you are into equine use. This requires planning consent in the form of a change of use application, it’s not just stables or buildings which require planning. “Mobile” shelters are also a minefield too. Equine use, also a common form of diversification, also comes back to needing planning consent and considering all of the things outlined above.

In short, my advice would be that it is great to have options and multiple income streams to support a rural business, however, good advice from an early stage and through the process is crucial and could save you from making a costly mistake and be the difference between it happening or not.

Hit the contact page if you want to get in touch and discuss any plans you may have!