Farm diversification is nothing new. But we’ve seen a heightened conversation around the topic recently with Brexit a big driving force behind many of these discussions.
However, with uncertainty comes opportunity and for one farming family in the South East of England, they look a risk 10 years ago that has not only benefited them financially but also socially.
Jane Miller and her husband’s family have been farming for generations. Traditionally a mixed, arable, beef and dairy farm, the family made the decision to come out of dairy 10 years ago as the business became financially unviable.
“The land we were using for the dairy cows was great for this purpose but was not suitable for arable. We were left in a position where we had an asset which no longer had a clear use,” said Jane.
“We have had some experience of diversification projects having erected a telecommunications mast on-farm and also starting a seasonal Shetland pony club business.
“So, when we were approached by Bruce Casalis who was looking for land to expand his doggy day care business we were very amenable to the business idea.”
Bruce’s doggy day care
Having always wanted to start his own business, Bruce Casalis, founder of Bruce’s Doggy Day Care, spotted a gap in the market when it came to pet care. “Living in London at the time I could see the value in dog walking but wondered how I could take this to the next level.
“After 12 months of dog walking and carrying out market research, I went on the hunt for land to rent in order to expand the doggy day care business I wanted to develop.”
See also: Animal and equestrian business ideas
Bruce explains that he was very fortunate to have come across the Miller family who were very open to his business concept. “We worked with the family to ensure they understood the business plan and answered the questions and concerns they had from noise to waste management.
“We started renting land from them on standard Landlord-Tenant relationship terms, and the rest, they say, is history,” says Bruce.
Ten years on and the business has gone from strength to strength. Bruce has entered into a long-term lease agreement with the Miller family and has rented more land from them to expand the business.
Renting land to third parties
Renting land to third parties can offer-up huge benefits to a farming business. “Not only are we generating an income from land that was previously dormant, but the land is now also being used,” explains Jane.
“When we first came out of dairy there was a large loss of activity on the farm, but now we have that air of busyness back which is a great feeling. Bruce and his team have also done a brilliant job of managing the land, it’s kept very tidy and well maintained which is an added bonus.”
However, Jane adds that there are some lessons they have learnt along the way that others could benefit from. “Before you embark on a new venture like this take the time to understand the business and how it’s going to be run.
“For Bruce, securing planning permission has been one of the greatest challenges, and I would urge anyone considering a similar venture to understand the potential planning restrictions in your area.
“We have no involvement in the day-to-day running of the business but have provided support and insight during the planning process,” explains Jane.
“It’s also worth engaging with a local land agent who will able to advise you on the sub-letting and licensing of land. As a qualified solicitor, I have a good understanding of the legalities but engaging with other professionals is always worthwhile.
“And finally, understand how leasing the land for non-agricultural purposes could affect your eligibility to claim BPS on this pocket of land.
“The guidance is not 100% clear under the current guidelines and so we’ve chosen to take the rented land out of our BPS claim, however the rental return we receive balances out the loss,” says Jane.
With long waiting lists of families and professionals wanting to send their dogs to Bruce’s Doggy Day Care, they are now in a position to expand the business with a focus in the South East of England.
“The business model we operate is based on that of a children’s nursery. The dogs that come to us spend their time socialising and engaging in numerous activities.
“The positive reputation and ethos we’ve created, combined with the numerous industry awards, and my position as a director for the Pet Industry Federation board has seen the business grow significantly.
“However, to grow we need more sites and for this, we are seeking landowners and farmers in the South East of England who may have pockets of underused land that has good road access and may suit dog day care.
“The model we’ve established with the help of the Miller family has worked really well and this is something we are looking to replicate, although we are fully aware that no two farming businesses are the same,” says Bruce.