people walking across a field

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'How we diversified our small farm'

Campsites, countryside skills courses and even music festivals are among the enterprises cropping up on small farms across the UK.

Around half of the UK's farms have some form of diversified activity in their business, according to Defra, bringing in an average of £10,400 of additional revenue a year.

Benefits can go beyond the financial, too. Broadening the range of business activities can be a great way to utilise existing skills and interests and even encourage the next generation to stay on the farm.

It can also make better use of your farm's resources, for example turning an old barn into a wedding venue or even a brewery, and help to integrate it more with the rural economy.

Embracing change

Jenny Taylor with an Airstream caravan

The options for diversification are only really limited by your imagination.

This is something the Taylor family – Humphrey, Hannah and their daughter Jenny – have embraced. Their farm, a 94 acre mixed farm in the Stour Valley on the Essex-Suffolk border, has been in the family since Humphrey's father bought it back in 1951.

While the family's love of traditional farming means that many aspects of Lower Dairy Farm haven't changed since then, they've also introduced several new ventures over the last few years.

"We still produce cereals and our beef cattle are all descended from the dairy herd my grandfather introduced when he bought the farm," says Jenny. "But, to enable us to continue to farm traditionally, we've diversified, introducing new businesses such as a farm shop, a nearly wild campsite and timber frame repair courses." 

Where did it begin?

A sign outside Lower Dairy Farm advertising the farm shop

Jenny's parents started selling their beef directly to the public in 2006. "It started with a handwritten note outside the farm but, as business grew, we set up a farm shop selling direct from the farmhouse and expanded the range of produce on sale," Jenny explains.

As well as the farm's 28 day aged, grass fed beef, the shop also stocks free range pork and eggs, seasonal produce and a range of more than 30 preserves, chutneys, jams, pickles and mustards handmade by Hannah.

Jenny felt inspired to move back to the farm five years ago. "I'd always wanted to work on the farm and by adding new revenue streams this has become possible," she explains.

As part of this, she set up the nearly wild campsite on the farm's water meadows. As well as accepting bookings directly, Jenny works with a local company, Outdoor Hire Centre, to offer camping as part of a two day canoe adventure trip on the River Stour. "We've just had our first summer and already we've got return bookings for next year," she adds. "I've also renovated an old Airstream caravan to rent out to people looking for more luxury."

Challenges for small farms

A selection of jams and pickles produced at Lower Dairy Farm

Although the family is pleased with the way these new ventures are working out, Jenny admits that the biggest challenge is finding the time. "My mum and I both work off the farm so sometimes it can be tricky to juggle everything alongside the existing farm business. It's helped that we've been able to start small and build up the shop and campsite gradually, and that we've partnered with the Outdoor Hire Centre to generate business."  

The family has also benefitted from advice from the University of Cambridge's Rural Business Unit, which conducts the Farm Business Survey on behalf of Defra. "They told us to stick to things we were passionate about and to be flexible," says Jenny.

"You read about farm diversification where they've had lots of money to put into a new business. It's not as easy on a small farm if you don't have this funding available, but it's still possible to achieve a lot."

As an example, the Taylors run lots of smaller events on the farm including farm walks, timber frame repair courses, Open Farm Sundays and even a dog training day on one of the fields. "These are a great opportunity to attract more people to the farm and showcase what we do," says Jenny. "Next year we're planning a small film festival, with screens set up throughout the farm and we'll continue to explore new ideas to further diversify the business."  

And, while there are plenty of plans for the future, the family has already felt the benefit of the new business ventures. As well as enabling Jenny to move back home and the family to carry on farming traditionally, she says it has created a bit of a buzz. "It's a small farm, which can be quite isolating, but by having the shop and the campsite, it means there's always something to talk about," say Jenny. "It's a very special place and it's great to be able to share it with other people."  

  • Find out more about Farm Essentials: insurance for farms under 50 hectares