Farms now need to be more than just producers in order to flourish.
The Farming industry has changed irrevocably over the last century.
In the 21st Century, the farm owners and landholders of Britain have to be more than simply workers of the land. Operating a successful agricultural business in modern Britain is now a gargantuan task involving multiple skill sets including: people management, business-to-business communications, marketing and many more. But it hasn’t always been like this, 50 years ago the farming landscape of Britain looked very different.
Although Britain has long been a nation that has specialised in Agriculture, there was a time when the entire industry was on the brink of chaos. After the Second World War, Britain’s farms were in crisis. Over 450,000 British people died during the course of WWII, just under 1% of the total population. This might not sound like a huge number, but consider that this is essentially 1 in every 100 people and that the majority of these deaths were men of working age, involved in either agriculture or industry, and you can see why this had such a significant impact on Great Britain’s farms.
Thankfully, the Agriculture Act of 1947 drastically reordered and revitalised the way that the government could interact with farms. The act, above all else, offered stability to the farmer, guaranteeing more secure markets and prices so that the land holder knew what price he could get for his product before selling.
The Act also gave landowners greater rights to tenure, meaning that their land could no longer be taken away from them as easily. These reformative bills gave post-War farmers the much needed security that they needed to turn a decent profit throughout the Baby Boom period, but would not be enough to protect them from the decades of austerity that were soon to follow.
Towards the late 1970s, the government decided that the country’s agricultural system needed to be reviewed. Unfortunately, by the time this review got underway, the Margaret Thatcher administration had taken control. Soon new laws relating to both succession rights, and the value of the milk quota attached to land, significantly changed the relationship between the landowner and the tenant. Still, British farms managed to persevere throughout these tough times.
How have they managed to survive throughout a handful of financial crashes and turbulent times? Diversification.
Nearly 70% of the land mass in the UK is used for Farming and half of all farmers in the UK supplement their income through diversification – adding £10,400 on average to British farms’ total revenue. Diversification can take many forms – some farmers choose to convert part of their holdings into tourist attractions, like Farmer Palmer’s Farm Park in Poole, whereas others innovate, creating their own products and niches, like Martin Hamilton from County Down.
In the face of falling figures in the agricultural sector; Martin Hamilton and his team reshaped their enterprise into a wholly new business, shifting away from a more traditional farm-retailer relationship. Mash Direct was born over a Sunday roast and the idea is a surprisingly simple one. Growing their land ownership from 93 hectares to 570 in the space of around 10 years, the family have flourished, selling their vegetable accompaniments to independent stores as well as some of the bigger retail companies, such as ASDA.
Entering into the retail market was not a move that that family undertook lightly. From the start, they understood that they needed to be consistently developing new products, not only to keep up with their newfound competitors but also to maintain the company’s forward momentum. By maintaining a constant presence at Farmer’s Markets, Trade Shows and Food Festivals, the family has been able to keep tabs on what consumers want from them, so that they can continue developing products that sell well.
Lastly, Martin has secured his family business as an integral part of the community, by being the first businessman to launch a junior entrepreneur programme on their farm. Inviting over 300 pupils from local village schools, he has worked to inspire 10 and 11 year old kids to think laterally about developing their own business visions.
Martin’s is a typical diversification success story, an example of a business that has managed to come back from the brink by tirelessly innovating and challenging the conceptions of how a modern farm can function in the 21st century.