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Farming in crisis Thursday, 23 September, 1999, 11:31 GMT 12:31 UK
Lodgers to llamas: Making ends meet
llama trekking
Llamas provided the answer for Bruce and Ruth Wright
Five years ago, Bruce and Ruth Wright made a decision to sell up the family farm in Norfolk, move to Yorkshire and set up a llama trekking business.

Farming in crisis
As mixed arable and beef farmers, they had been faced with increased demands from supermarkets for cheaper produce, to the point where they felt their business was no longer viable.

Mr Wright, who is now 57, looked at many different options. He told BBC News Online: "I looked into paintballing, four wheel drive ranges - really anything that would make use of my farming skills and the land we had.

'Hard decision to make'

"But there were already a lot of those type of places around."

A few years previously Mr Wright had investigated the possibilities of llama farming with a view to producing llama fibre. The idea was revived and revised.

Trish and William Milner converted part of their house into bed and breakfast accommodation
The couple decided that their future lay in llama trekking, and relocated to Staintondale in the North Yorkshire Moors National Park, where the animals would feel more at home and trekkers could fully appreciate the countryside.

He said: "We had to do something. The supermarkets weren't supporting us and so we looked at many different options before we made the decision. It was a hard decision to make, but we have had a lot of success."

This year more than 500 trekkers have enjoyed the combination of a llama carrying their packs and food made by Mrs Wright - and there are more reservations on their books.

Supplementary income

Mr and Mrs Wright's is a fairly extreme example of diversification - a phenomenon which is becoming more prevalent as it becomes increasingly apparent that the rural economy can no longer rely so heavily on traditional farming.

The National Farmers' Union's deputy chief executive, Tony Pexton, said a recent survey had indicated that more than 150 non-farming occupations are carried out by farmers.

These include tourism, on-site production of dairy produce, landscaping, livestock haulage, provision of IT and conference facilities, and leisure activities.

"Most of these businesses supplement the income of farmers who continue to farm," said Mr Pexton.

teleworker magazine
Teleworking and cottages "essential" to rural economy
"It is going to become increasingly necessary that farmers diversify into other areas so that they can survive the changing nature of the rural economy.

"Many farmers now, especially the smaller ones, have no choice but to look at what else they can do to generate more income."

The NFU has recently published Farming Economy 1999 - Routes to Prosperity for UK Agriculture, which offers advice on diversifying.

Holidays on farms

Yorkshire-based Trish and William Milner lost many sheep almost a decade ago after they suffered a bad reaction to a standard injection.

Their losses ran to 120,000 and they realised that they would have to do something rapidly or sink.

Mrs Milner told BBC News Online: "I had been a home economics teacher and luckily we lived in a big house, so we thought that we could do it."

The B&B, they say, has saved the farm and their way of life.

The Farm Holiday Bureau is a non-profit making co-operative that has been in existence since 1983. It has seen its membership grow steadily to around the 1,000 mark.

Ostrich farming had a bumpy start in the UK
Spokeswoman Nazhat Parveen said: "We try to promote a different kind of holiday where people can join in on the farm if they want to, or at least see how the farm works.

"We are also aware that many farmers, especially in the current climate, need the extra income."

Many more farms are now opening their gates to day trippers and turning parts of their premises into working museums, country crafts and fare shops, and craft workshops.

But not all diversification spells a departure from the soil. Ostrich farming, despite a shaky start in the UK, is beginning to gain strength.

Not burying their heads in the sand

Jeanette Edgar, the sales and marketing manager of Osgrow 2000 - the marketing and sales arm of the ostrich farming industry, which represents roughly 120 farms nationwide - told BBC News Online that ostriches were, in a manner of speaking, about to take off in the UK.

She said: "There were a couple of scams going around a few years ago where farmers were sold non-existent eggs from Belgium.

"And there were some farmers who went into ostriches without really considering all the implications. You need big American barns to house the birds over the winter - and you need specialist knowledge about how to skin them to use their leather."

ostrich leather
Ostrich leather is extremely fine and valuable
She said the industry was now more regulated, and farmers who had had the cash to invest in ostriches were now on the brink of making substantial profits.

Sheilagh Holmes, of the National Rural Enterprise Council, said that farmers were also using their outbuildings to set up community-use IT centres, or telecottages.

This could either provide the farmer with a secondary source of income, or indeed be used by anyone - including farmers - in rural communities to help them to set up new businesses.

This type of community project is becoming essential to the future of rural economies, say both Ms Holmes and Mr Paxton.

"We have to recognise that agriculture is going to play a lesser part in the rural economy," said Mr Paxton. "And farmers are going to need different types of help to move into other areas."

The BBC's Charles Rhodes: One alternative - flax farming
Jeanette Edgar of Osgrow 200: "People who have had money to put into it have been very successful"
NFU deputy chief executive Tony Pexton: "Tremendous pressure on farmers now"
Farmer turned llama trekker Bruce Wright: "Had to diversify into something else"
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