In a challenging rural economic climate, farmers are increasingly looking at boosting income through diversifying their business activities. But what’s involved, and where can farmers get help and advice on their options? We offer some guidance.

Rural diversification can come in many forms. Some farmers may want to explore alternative agricultural activities such as rearing rare breeds or unusual livestock, growing specialist crops, or perhaps investing in new technologies such as renewable energy in the form of wind farms.

We were recently involved in a move that will lead to the development of a new farmhouse on land at Lanchester as the owners look to build a more sustainable business in the face of changes to EU farming subsidies, which currently support hundreds of local farmers. Other projects have seen permission secured to allow an arable farm to introduce a suckler herd, as part of a long-term project to become a more sustainable, mixed-farm business.

Others farmers are looking to non-agricultural sectors. According to the latest Defra Farm Business Survey, 66% of farm businesses in England had some diversified activity in 2017/18 – up by 2% on 2016/17 figures. A total income of £680 million was generated from diversified activities by more than 36,000 farms.

Many agricultural diversification plans include residential developments and mixed-use schemes such as farm shops and cafes, or flexible commercial business units. Where there is demand, providing tourist accommodation can also be a profitable business venture, which is often supported by planning policy. Other popular diversification enterprises include equestrian facilities, pet boarding, cookery schools, craft workshops, shooting grounds and venue hire for weddings and parties.

At Hedley Planning Services, we have seen a marked increase in enquiries for planning advice for diversification projects as farmers look to secure their futures in these unpredictable, perhaps even brutal times.

If you are considering diversifying into other forms of agriculture, this will not usually require planning permission and agricultural businesses benefit from permitted development rights. If you are proposing to move into a non-agricultural sector however, planning permission is likely to be required for the change of use of the land or buildings and any new-build development.

So, if you are considering a rural diversification project or would like to discuss your options, it’s advisable to seek professional advice from experts who have relevant experience and can provide professional advice and support.