Monitor farm offers advice on how to start a agricultural diversification

A group of farmers met at the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB)’s Blandford Monitor Farm on March 6 to find out how to get the most out of agricultural diversification.

The group and their hosts, James and Georgie Cossins, were joined by a land agent, a bank manager and farmer Nick Bragg.

Nick, farming in partnership with his wife Claire, from Frogmary Green Farm, South Petherton, gave his top six tips for successful diversification:

  • Team is key – family, staff, consultants, architect and bank manager;
  • Don’t underestimate the impact on your own time;
  • Be ready for delays, changes to the plan and extra costs from the planning process;
  • Consider your cash-flow management and allow contingency;
  • Enjoy your project – without passion, it won’t happen;
  • Have an off-farm hobby for pressure release.

Arable and poultry businesses are at the core of Nick’s farm, but he has diversified to include potato storage, an AD plant site, cookery school, conference centre, wedding venue and an outdoor schools classroom.

Nick and Claire’s is a story of success, is a testament to their hard work and planning.

Father-and-daughter Monitor Farm hosts James and Georgie wanted to explore how to make more out of a redundant dairy unit. The unit, at Rawston Farm near Blandford, is a mix of old and new architecture, some of which may be listed, with access and footpath issues.

Different options for James and Georgie include an abattoir, farm safari park centre, storage, farm education centre, dog exercise centre, holiday lets or re-development to residential lettings owned by the farm.

Land agent Paul Tory said: “There are a lot of questions to consider when you’re thinking about diversifying. Why are you doing it? Have you got the skills you need? Will the risk match the reward?

You can’t underestimate the importance of very thorough planning.

When it comes to presenting a business plan, banker Victoria Read emphasised it was quality, and not quantity that counted.

Four pages covering all the essential elements of a project were better than 40 with incomplete areas, she said. She also highlighted that stress testing any figures was essential to assess viability.

Philip Dolbear, AHDB’s knowledge exchange manager, added: “While diversification can be a useful addition to a business, it is important not to lose focus on the core business.

“Sometimes more attention to detail and a small increase in performance of what’s already there can be just as valuable as a new project.”