Why not diversify in 2015?

KEN JAN 14 CLA

KEN JAN 14 CLA - Credit: Archant

A time for fresh starts and resolutions, January is also a good time for farmers and land managers to think about opportunities to do things a little differently

As Kent Life readers will know, running a business in the countryside has changed enormously over the past few decades. Technological advances, growth of online communications, changing social trends and pressures on farming have all contributed to the need for rural businesses to change and adapt.

By their nature, many rural businesses are land based, which creates both challenges and opportunities when it comes to exploring new business ideas.

For many farms, diversification into new areas of business has been critical to keeping their business afloat. Across Kent redundant buildings have been converted to workshops or offices, renewable energy has been generated and new crops have been grown. Although Kent has been home to vineyards since the Roman times, the development of the county’s wine industry has really gathered pace in recent decades.

Rural tourism has inspired many exciting diversification projects, and in turn these projects have helped to boost visits to the area, and spending within it. Glamping sites have been opened, farm shops have thrived and country sports have become far more accessible for town and country folk.

However, it is not unheard of for farmers or landowners to be talked into new ventures by salesmen that then go on to become costly mistakes. If you are considering a new idea in the countryside, it is vital you have a good understanding of the costs involved, what income you could realistically expect and the potential pitfalls you need to watch out for.

One of the most vital questions to ask yourself is “do I have personal enthusiasm for this idea?” Any diversification project will take considerable time and there will be many hurdles and delays.

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Real enthusiasm for the idea goes a long way to helping you remain committed. Your chosen project should also suit you, your assets and your skills. Market research and preparation of a business plan will help you understand whether the project has a good chance of commercial success.

Serious thought needs to be given to any business issues created by the proposed project, such as business rates, insurance, utility services, funding, health and safety, the effect on any existing business, and potential tax implications. One of the most important early considerations is whether planning permission will be needed. Generally diversification will require some form of permission, whether full planning permission or ‘deemed permission.’

Farm diversification can often have a positive impact on the local community, economy and environment – for example, boosting the local economy, or increasing ecological diversity by bringing land or woodland into management.

You should plan to maximise these positive impacts and address any negative effects such as changes to access or traffic volume from the start. n

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