Futureproofing with farm diversification, the question of sucession
With succession planning on many farmers’ minds as the industry goes through a period of massive change, farmer Leonie McIntosh talks about how Great Farm is ensuring it is sustainable for the next generation through farm diversification.
Maximising every opportunity their land and location has to offer was a key driver for the family-run partnership, B.J. Arkell, at Great Farm in Fairford, Gloucestershire, as they look to hand the farm onto the next generation on a strong financial footing.
The 1,012-hectare farm on the border of Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire, is mostly arable with two beef enterprises, a 30-strong herd of Aberdeen-Angus cross suckler cows, plus 200 store cattle. The family also runs a continuous programme of soil and habitat improvement.
The partnership has developed a range of new enterprises ranging from commercial and residential lets, a wedding venue, a glamping business and a seasonal pop-up campsite. This has resulted in their revenue now being split 50/50 between traditional farming and holiday and event income.
Farm Diversification Enterprises
Leonie McIntosh, of Great Farm, said they always tried to stay ahead of the curve.
“We started free-range chickens when wheat was £60/tonne and interest in sustainably produced local food was increasing and we also saw the opportunities for tourism on our farm, very early on,” she said. “We are continually looking at how we can do things better and what better things we can do.”
Redundant farm buildings, particularly if they are traditionally built and attractive, offer farmers a variety of options either as rental properties, commercial lets or event venues. The farm has transformed its Cotswold stone ‘Jenners Barn’ into a rural wedding and party venue, with an adjacent contemporary marquee, set in 2ha of water meadow.
Guests can also hire the cottages and camp around the barn.
Farm Diversification Trends
Glamping has become ever more popular, especially after the pandemic and Great Farm has six different camps, from a shepherd hut to an upturned boat. Keeping up with trends is important in any business, and they have provided hot tubs for some camps which have become a much sought after feature.
Great Farm is situated on the edge of RAF Fairford, a US Airforce Base, which has provided another business opportunity. The Royal International Air Tattoo takes place annually in July, the world’s largest military air show, attracting 150,000 spectators over the weekend.
The family grasped the chance to set up a pop-up camping site and it is this ability to think creatively that has helped them successfully expand their business.
Succession planning was an important consideration, both in commercial terms and on the environment. Bruce Arkell, partner in Great Farm, is a keen environmentalist and devoted a large part of his working life to planting trees and woodlands.
They have completed a carbon audit and try to ‘tread lightly’ on the land, encouraging people to come to the farm without cars and introducing environmentally friendly low-level lighting and wood heated hot tubs.
“We continue with tree planting, bio diversification and soil enhancement and are great advocates of the green agenda,” she added. “I believe that for farms to thrive in the future, it is key to look at the changing schemes for more environmentally-focused farm payments as an opportunity not just a problem.”
Grants alone were not sufficient to fund all their enterprises and the farm has sought funding from Virgin Money to enable growth. They recently sought £2.8 million to purchase 81ha of neighbouring farmland and £2.14m to purchase a farmhouse for accommodation for the wedding venue and enable them to free up their current property for letting via Airbnb.
The family said external investors had played an important role and with a potentially lucrative new project, it was vital to go through figures with a fine toothcomb to see if it is viable and pull a well-written, reasoned business plan together.
Justin Hayward, relationship manger agribusiness with Virgin Money, added it was a progressive enterprise which was financially and environmentally sustainable and he had been impressed by their drive and entrepreneurial spirit.
“By providing them with finance, we are helping to ensure that future generations will benefit from their careful stewardship of the land and their business acumen,” he said.