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Last Updated: Friday, 27 April 2007, 11:53 GMT 12:53 UK
From tractors to bed and breakfast
Tractor
More and more farmers are moving away from just farming
Being a farmer can be a tough business in today's Britain.

With more and more farmers realising that they have to diversify away from their core farming business in order to make ends meet, what areas of diversification can work best?

QUESTION
John Henderson, Scotland
There is much talk at the moment about farm diversification - everything from farm shops, leisure-based schemes and the conversion of buildings to residential use.

This seems all very well if you live within, say, half an hour of a major population centre.

There is becoming an increasingly part-time nature to farming
Russell Lawson

But if, like me, you farm in a sparesely populated area like the Scottish Borders, with no major population centre within an hour's drive, the potential customer base for such ventures seems to rule them out completely.

What would you recommend instead? Are mail-order based businesses the only possibility? Or are there other avenues to pursue?

ANSWER
Russell Lawson, Federation of Small Businesses Wales
There have been a few problems with past 'answers' regarding agriculture over the last few years.

For example, improving transport connections that link rural areas to the rest of Britain can also have the effect of reducing costs for competitors in the supply of goods and services to rural markets.

Broadband, hailed often as a potential saviour for rural economies since it can shrink distance to virtually nothing, has also had the problem of giving competitors the opportunity to tap into local markets such as estate agency, legal and accountancy work.

Electronic livestock auctions are already displacing some rural businesses.

There is becoming an increasingly part-time nature to farming. The Agriculture Consensus shows that part-time farming has now become more common than full-time - such farms cannot survive unless there are some complementary sources of income.

A recent survey into farming pluriactivity found that 69% of farm households were already supplementing their main income with other jobs, and spending 34% of total farmhouse active time at it.

Off-farm employment accounted for 66% of total time spent on jobs away from the farm.

The point is that there is no 'one' answer. One way of making money for one farm might not work for another.

Eco-tourism and outdoor activities can make farms a specific 'destination' which people travel to precisely because they are sparsely populated.

But this does involve farmers and farming family members undertaking part-time activities that will inevitably involve taking them away from the core business of farming.

You can only undertake whatever activities work for you, and where you think you can add value and make money.


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