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Diversifying puts rural tourism in a field of its own

AN AGRICULTURAL expert is predicting a surge in rural tourism ventures across the South East with latest figures revealing farmers  received 35 percent of their income from diversified business activities in 2020.

Total income for the region’s farmers fell by £174 million last year to £360 million, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, with £127 million coming from diversified business activities.

With farmers now facing the loss of direct payment subsidies – as the tourism sector accelerates its recovery from Covid – Rupert Wailes-Fairbairn, of rural insurance broker Lycetts, believes 2022 will be the year they reinvent their businesses.

“The vast untapped business opportunities for the sector are clear, with diversification last year making the smallest contribution to South East farming output,” he said.

“As farmers face burgeoning financial challenges and a period of unprecedented industry change, many will be planning now to protect their financial futures over the next 12 months.

“To help them achieve this, a range of new business activities are likely to be embarked upon, from the hosting of experience days to putting non-productive land to revenue-generating use with the introduction of glamping pods, tent pitches, shepherd huts or yurts.

“Renewable energy projects also promise lucrative opportunities, with operators paying farmers and landowners rents of up to £1,000 per acre.”

Although rural diversification can open the door to profitable revenue streams, Rupert has warned of the risks of launching new business ventures in markets where farmers’ experience and expertise can often be limited.

“Due diligence and prudent steps should be taken to avoid falling foul of unexpected financial pitfalls,” he said.

“Tourism-related projects will invariably involve members of the public setting foot on farmland.  Health and safety risk assessments, along with measures and procedures to ensure a safe environment, are therefore essential considerations at the design stage.

“Public liability insurance is a must – and insurers may request site inspections to ensure quality standards and requirements are being met. In some cases, new holiday projects may also see farmers employing staff for the very first time, resulting in a new requirement for employers’ liability cover.

“Insurable risks for renewable energy projects, meanwhile, can range from those faced during construction, commissioning and testing – including damage during the build, start-up delays and advanced loss of profits – through to a scheme’s day-to-day operation.”

He pointed out that a surge in the number of farm shops, too, carried important insurance considerations. Where produce has the potential to inadvertently cause illness amongst customers, liability cover is essential. This can also offer protection from risks associated with processing and production undertaken by staff.

“Before embarking on any new business venture, it is important that farmers seek advice from specialists in the field to ensure that best practice risk management procedures are in place.”