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Farm Diversification: building the link from farm to fork

By: Justin Wright Date: 8 September 2017
Category: Article,Food and drink

Justin Wright, a Manager in our specialist food and drink team, applauds two examples of how farm diversification has created a closer link between agriculture and consumers

In one way at least it has been a cheesy kind of summer for me. First, the annual NFU/Lovewell Blake farm walk was held at Fen Farm Dairy at Flixton near Bungay, home of the Brie de Meaux style Baron Bigod cheese.

And then came news that Norton’s Dairy at Frettenham just north of Norwich has won yet another award: Best Food and Drink Supplier in the Lovewell Blake-sponsored Aylsham Show Norfolk Food Heroes Awards.

Both are classic examples of farms which have diversified, and in a way which will help them support multiple generations of farmers by creating multiple businesses within the one farm. This kind of diversification is building a much closer link between farmers and food and drink consumers – and it is also building a wider income base for many farms at a time of huge uncertainty about future income streams post-Brexit.

It is often when a new generation comes into a farm business that diversification happens, in many cases to provide a viable business that the incoming family member can make their own. At Norton’s Dairy, for example, Emily Norton was part of the fourth generation of the family to work in the business; it was she who created the St Swithin’s range of soft cheeses which are winning so many awards.

Meanwhile at Fen Farm Dairy, Jonny Crickmore joined his father’s farm in 1996. He was inspired to start selling raw milk direct to the public at the farm gate following a visit to an egg farm, where he learned that the farm was selling its ‘seconds’ – those eggs which were either too big, too small or double-yokers – direct to the public, at a bigger margin than they were getting for the Grade A eggs from the wholesaler. If it could work for eggs, why not milk?

Creating a cheese was a logical next step, and the first batch of Baron Bigod was made in 2012; the farm also now makes a Normandy-style butter.

Of course, diversification can take many guises, not all food related (holiday lets and energy generation have proved popular in recent years). But for many farmers, their heart is in producing food, and diversification can offer all sorts of opportunities within that sphere, as Fen Farm and Norton’s Dairy bear witness to.

The advantages are clear: developing new income streams, reducing risk in other parts of the business, integrating family members into the business with an eye on succession, and using current products to add value (as in a dairy farm making cheese).

A word of warning, though: diversification should be seen as a new business, and the same rigour in terms of financial appraisal and planning is required.

In the meantime, consumers will continue to benefit from diversification, which is providing a stream of new top-quality products, and making the link between ‘farm and fork’ ever closer.
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