Latest figures show that around two-thirds of farms in England have diversified. CLA Member, Emily McVeigh of Kenton Hall Estate, discusses her family’s diversification into glamping, weddings, cookery and longhorn beef.
This all began when I presented a business plan to my father when I was in my early twenties.
We started by offering weddings on the farm in a marquee and we were among the first to offer glamping in Suffolk. From a single yurt and a shepherds hut it grew into a small woodland village with assorted luxury tents, yurts and huts, not only offering great glamping accommodation, but also enabling us to offer a complete festival wedding package and experience.
Five years ago we opened a cookery school in a converted cow byre next to our kitchen garden. This is essentially about providing an experience and many people gift a course at our cookery school where they learn a new skill. However, it has also allowed us to branch out further and bring hen parties to the farm who stay in the woodland glamping site and part of their entertainment is an activity at the cookery school. We now receive all-season diversified income.
This all adds to the more traditional agricultural income – the arable farm and longhorn cattle which is run by my sister Lucy, and my father remains hugely involved as does my brother Tom. We do the harvest in-house and contract lots of the day-to-day work out. But even here we’ve diversified, our herd of English Longhorn cattle and our on-site butchery allows us to sell meat to local shops and direct to customers.
My father would say that ultimately it’s a shame that we can’t make enough money from farming without diversification. But I have so many friends with farms and I always tell them that maximising the value of their location or view is their biggest asset.
The main point is that our diversification has allowed a 460 acre farm to support three households, which has to be what this is all about.
It’s also allowed us to have multiple income streams, giving us far more flexibility and we’re less prone to sudden market shifts or shocks.
Overcoming rural challenges…
It’s an always evolving industry. The challenge is remaining fresh and continuing to offer something different. You really need to be on top of trends and things have changed hugely in the seven years since we launched – whether that’s in glamping or weddings.
We’ve had huge issues with connectivity. You can’t run a business properly in today’s world without proper broadband! I’ve also spent much of the last few years fighting with HMRC over business rates. We were essentially viewed as three separate businesses in their eyes and as a result didn’t qualify for business rate relief. Thankfully that’s now sorted, but it was a huge amount of energy spent over multiple years which should have been directed on our farm and business. The Government needs to be far more versatile in their approach to businesses like ours.
Advice to others:
I think a lot of farmers often think that diversification is about glamourous things like glamping and weddings, but don’t realise how much work needs to go into it – a lot of work goes into marketing and running it day-to-day. The fact is that this won’t be for every farmer and some will be more comfortable putting containers on site and selling storage space. It’s about finding the right diversification activity for you and your farm.
I’d also add to make full use of services provided by the CLA! They’ve been a great resource whenever we’ve needed a little bit of extra help.
Emily McVeigh was featured in last Monday’s Daily Telegraph talking about diversification and her farm. She was also interviewed on Sky News which you can watch again below.