Ten Winter Farm Diversification Ideas

Winter... Once it arrives you wonder if the grey, cold, and wet will ever end, as the heat of summer seems so long ago. To fight those winter blues, we have put together ten possible farm diversification ideas to inspire you to succeed in the depths of the winter gloom.

Pumpkin Patch Experience

A relative newcomer to the pick your own (PYO) stage, pumpkin patches are becoming increasingly popular as a family ‘must do’ experience, especially during the run up to Halloween.

Capitalise on your visitors-upselling will increase your profit. Consider selling extras such as hot drinks and snacks (keep on trend by selling pumpkin spiced coffees, pumpkin soup, pumpkin pies etc). Create a photo-friendly area with your business name visible- this provides free advertising when people inevitably upload their family snaps to Social Media! Make their visit an experience, one which will keep families visiting you year after year as an annual tradition.

Essential requirements you would need, ae good road access, and to be within a reasonable distance from a base of customers. One pumpkin vine can grow between 2 and 5 pumpkins, and depending on variety can require between 90cm and 3m space per plant. Pumpkins can be sown indoors from April to mid-May before being transplanted, but if you’re planting a lot of seeds this may not be possible. Seeds can be sown outdoors in late May or early June.

Pop-up Event

If you have good road access, ample parking space, and a hardstanding area or unused shed, why not consider hosting a winter pop-up event? Christmas fayres are extremely popular events, or you could consider a community Christmas carol evening. Nativity scenes are always a favourite with families, and can be used as an opportunity to promote British Farming too. Christmas Grottos are becoming evermore popular, as are illuminated light shows.

Courses

As a farmer, many of the niche skills you use are actually in high demand. Hands on skills are impossible to learn solely from books, and are far more successfully learnt in a hands on environment.

Why not consider running courses on your farm? From animal husbandry, animal basics and lambing, to shearing, hedge-laying and drystone walling- there are a huge range of courses you could offer to new entrants, smallholders, young farmers, school children etc.

Make the most of the Christmas buzz by holding wreath and garland making courses. With winter greenery abundant on most farms, and by tapping into the popular DIY trend, these are a popular and festive way of learning new skills.

Outdoor Cinema

Dark evenings don’t have to be dull and depressing! Why not think about hosting a drive-in / outdoor cinema event?

Drive in cinema events might be somewhat weather-dependant (wind could be something to bear in mind) but if you have an empty shed, why not set up a screen there? Visitors could bring their children, snacks and chairs, or you could provide bales/ seating and sell snacks, food and/ or drinks- if you are looking to diversify, look at what you can offer and make it work for YOU. Each farm/ situation is different, and, if everyone did the same thing, everyone would quickly go out of business!

Dry Storage


When farmers usually have so much shed space, its hard to remember that dry storage is not readily available to many people. Dry, secure storage is incredibly sought after by people wanting to store a variety of items. From caravans and motorhomes, to boats and trailers, as well as horse boxes, and lorries, there is great demand. Storage can be charged per day, or per space. Prices usually start at a minimum of £1/ night, but depending on demand and size, could be far greater. You might need change of use planning permission, and you would need to talk to a land agent/ your local council for more information.

Maize Maze

A Maize Maze is an increasingly popular tourist and visitor attraction, where a maze is created in a field of maize (sweetcorn plants). There are two ways of creating your maize- both require having the design of your maze in advance. The first method requires lots of willing helpers! Once the maize has started growing and is approximately ankle high, mark out your maze using posts and rope, and pull out the plant growing within the pathways. The second method requires programming your maze into the maize frill software prior to planting, and then the maze is all set to grow! There are companies who specialise in creating maize mazes and inputting them into the tractor software, so you don’t need any computer or artistic qualifications! It is usual for the design of the maze to change annually, and if you can incorporate themes relevant to the year (for example the Queen’s Jubilee, the Olympics etc) that can be an added attraction. This encourages visitors to return year on year, to beat the maze!

Dry Storage


When farmers usually have so much shed space, its hard to remember that dry storage is not readily available to many people. Dry, secure storage is incredibly sought after by people wanting to store a variety of items.

From caravans and motorhomes, to boats and trailers, as well as horse boxes, and lorries, there is great demand. Storage can be charged per day, or per space. Prices usually start at a minimum of £1/ night, but depending on demand and size, could be far greater. You might need change of use planning permission, and you would need to talk to a land agent/ your local council for more information.

Logs

The recent surge in electricity, gas and oil prices has led to many people turning back to more traditional ways of heating their homes, and what is better than sitting in front of a roaring fire when it is dark, wet and cold outside?

Do you have a supply of seasoned wood? Do you have any down trees on the farm which need to be removed (make sure you aren’t removing valuable habitat if the tree has been down for a while), or some trees which need to be pruned? Selling logs and kindling is one thing to do with the excess timber, but you need to be aware that you might need a Tree Felling License if you cut down more than 5 cubic meters of timber volume.

A tree felling licence is not required when the task involves lopping, topping, pruning or pollarding. More information about tree felling licenses can be found here

Foraging


Foraging courses have boomed in the last decade. As Autumn rolls in, make the most of nature’s bounty! Farms are usually bursting with wild food, and foraging allows people to enjoy the great outdoors, and appreciate seasonality at its best.

Guided tours along hedgerows and in fields can yield a bounty of food, even in the autumn! Think hawthorn berries, mushrooms, blackberries and nuts- if you can beat the squirrels!

Once you have gathered your delicacies, why not take them back and show your guests how to cook, preserve, drink or store them? Use the time walking in the fields to promote a healthy countryside and farming industry buy showing your visitors how you farm alongside nature.

Christmas Tree Farm

Relatively trouble and maintenance free, PYO Christmas Trees can be a popular money making diversification in the run up to Christmas. Be aware, however, that you are looking at a minimum of 5 years before you start to turn a profit, so make sure that you do your research before starting out.

Perhaps consider offering a slightly different Christmas Tree Experience, from organic (extremely unfilled market at the moment), to tree recycling, where trees are pot grown and brought back to you, with some customers even having the same tree back year on year. Bear in mind that your market will be mainly local, and that you will need good road access, parking, and nearby customer base.

Christmas trees require annual pruning, and don’t like wet ground, but otherwise are relatively disease and pest free. Your costs will depend on the scale of your project, but at a minimum, your budget needs to include five years’ worth of transplants, and the cost of labour to plant. Add to this the cost of weed control, pruning, harvesting and selling, along with the cost of any unsold trees.

Turkeys

Continuing on the Christmas theme, have you considered raising turkeys? The trend for ethically raised meat continues, with buyers prepared to pay a premium for traditional breeds and ethically raised birds. If you have sheep and lamb them indoors, but those sheds are then empty for the rest of the year, turkeys might be a good venture to fit into your system. Turkeys are foragers, and love to roam. However, they are easily stressed, and so their environment must be peaceful and full of enrichment (such as hanging vegetables to peck at etc) for them to flourish and grow well. Source your poults/ chicks from a UK based hatchery for high welfare birds, and consider if you are best buying day old chicks, or old birds. The ideal age for a turkey to be slaughtered is 26 weeks, and you must consider where you will slaughter and cool store the birds once they have been processed. Bear in mind that premium priced birds are a niche market, and the increasing prevalence of bird flu across the UK, plus the rising cost of heating and feed must be considered.

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