Farming opinion: Farmers face uphill struggle to convert their barns, says CLA’s Martin Betts

The CLA stand at last year's LAMMA show.

The CLA stand at last year's LAMMA show. - Credit: Archant

As if anyone needed reminding of the importance of diversification projects, a recently-published report showed they are providing farm businesses with income totalling £530million, writes CLA East communications manager Martin Betts.

The latest results from the Farm Business Survey (FBS) goes to show just how important it is to have an alternative income stream considering modern farming’s ever-changing economic picture.

The FBS shows that 61% of all farm businesses had some form of diversified enterprise in 2014–15, and almost 40% of these said income from the diversification accounted for at least a quarter of total farm business income.

Letting old agricultural buildings and new-build barns for non-farming use accounts for just over 40% of all diversifications, but there are other projects that can be profitably undertaken.

This is why the CLA is focusing on diversification at LAMMA Show at the East of England Showground on Wednesday, January 20 and Thursday, January 21 (stand 790 in Hall 7).

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Our advisers will be on hand to give free advice on the key issues associated with setting up a new venture – such as planning, rural funding, and even PR and marketing issues. So if you’re considering various initiatives, such as conversion of existing agricultural buildings and new-build barns into commercial or residential units, farm retail and tourism, and the opportunities associated with renewable energy projects, come and talk to us.

A survey into the diversification plans of visitors to the CLA stand at the recent Farm Business Innovation event at the Birmingham NEC showed 98% of respondents were likely to diversify in the next five years.

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The survey revealed that the most popular areas being considered for diversification are holiday accommodation and renewable energy. Planning topped the list as the specialist advice that respondents anticipated they would most need.

Regional surveyor Claire Wright will be on hand on the first day of LAMMA to offer advice on the subject. This will be particularly apt for farmers and landowners in Suffolk and Essex, where they face an uphill task to get permission to convert redundant agricultural buildings into residential units from their local planning authorities, despite a nationwide reduction in refusal rates. According to a report published by PlanningResource, Maldon in Essex (88.9% refusal rate) and Mid Suffolk (87% refusal rate) District Councils are rated among the ‘most hostile to barn conversion applications’ in the country.

Applications for conversions to residential as well as commercial units can be made through Permitted Development Rights, changes to the planning regime offering some exciting opportunities for those keen to diversify their existing agricultural enterprise. However caution should be exercised to avoid damaging the long-term development of the business for a short-term gain on a diversification project – expert advice in this area is absolutely crucial.

On the second day of LAMMA, CLA East rural adviser Katy Anderson will be on hand to offer guidance on the funding currently available to rural businesses.

Now is the time to take advantage of millions of pounds of Government money that has been made available to invest in farm innovation and fund diversification projects, as well as help attract tourists to your area. There are two major funding streams to examine, LEADER and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, both providing genuine opportunities for rural businesses to grow, as well as create jobs and wealth for their communities.

Taking the time to visit our stand to discuss a new venture and get expert advice could well prove to be your most astute bit of business at LAMMA.

There is also an open invite to an informal networking event, sponsored by Maxey Grounds & Co, being held on our stand on the first day of the show from 2.30pm. A selection of delicious cakes, as well as hot drinks, will be available, with CLA advisers on hand to answer your rural business questions.

Visitors to the stand will also have the opportunity to win £500 by entering the CLA’s prize draw.

Free to attend, LAMMA is open from 7.30am until 5pm on Wednesday and 7.30am until 4.30pm on Thursday. Free car parking is available.

We look forward to seeing you there.

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