A beginners guide to farm diversification

Farm retailer Jimmy Doherty tells us what he’s learned from 15 years of diversifying his 100-acre farm near Ipswich

I always wanted to run my own farm, growing and producing the kind of food that I would be happy eating. It's interesting when I think of how the farm has evolved over the years.

Diversification has only just begun for farmers; the opportunities and potential out there are only limited by your imagination. If you’re thinking about diversifying your farm for the first time, then here are some of my top tips on what to think about when starting out.

1) Manage seasonal downtime

When things are a bit slow in January in the restaurant, for example, people still come out for a walk in the farm park. The farm itself, the agricultural side of it, keeps going all year round, but it's really important to have these diverse elements, because if you've got a very seasonal business, it helps to even it out a bit.

2) Take inspiration from the high street

Have a look at other people, see what they're doing and what works. Have a look at the experts – the big supermarkets – how they diversify and the different brands they attract.

3) Don’t be scared of failure

Tried and tested is always good, but also being a bit unique and adding your own flavour is very, very important. Try to be different, and don't be scared of failure. If I had always worried about it not working, I would still be standing on a derelict farm.

4) Think like a customer

Would I be happy coming here? Is it a good day out? I ask myself questions all the time, as if I was a customer – it helps me spot opportunities to make their experience of visiting the farm even better. 

5) Appreciate what you have

It’s important to stop and appreciate what you have achieved sometimes. You can be a busy fool rushing around, but just stop, look around and think: ‘Do you know what? We’ve achieved quite a lot here.’

6) Use expertise in your family

You’ll realise the remarkable expertise you will have around you and in your family. Make the most of it. 

7) Make the most of your varied skill set

Don’t forget about your own capabilities; farmers are already equipped with fantastic skills, which will allow you to confidently approach any farm diversification.

8) Be prepared for the unexpected

Whatever you're planning to do on your farm - whether it's opening a farm shop or running a music festival - it's really important to have the right insurance cover in place to protect you, because farming can be uncertain sometimes and things do go wrong. Get specialist advice from your insurer to make sure you've thought of all the possible risks associated with what you're doing, and that your policy will cover you for them.