Meet Yare Valley Farm, which is showing how branching out can boost a farm’s business
PUBLISHED: 08:26 22 October 2018 | UPDATED: 14:56 22 October 2018
Diversification has become an essential tool to protect the income of farm businesses. Eleanor Pringle visited a family farm which has taken every opportunity to branch out in a variety of different ways.
A Norfolk family says it has ensured its farm has endured for the past 100 years – and for the next 100 to come – by making the most of its assets despite geographical constraints.
Yare Valley farm owner Tim Mack said he realised “early on” that he would need to diversify his business, given the fact that his 800-acre site at Surlingham was constrained on two boundaries by the River Yare – limiting the neighbouring areas where he could buy more land.
Mr Mack, who runs the farm with son William, said new income streams were created as a result of opportunity as opposed to need.
He said: “The first thing we tried was a timeshare pool. Another farm in the area had one, so in 1991 we built our own.”
Years later, the Macks realised that the rapeseed oil they had been using to fuel their vehicles could be processed more finely and sold – their first venture into direct-to-customer sales.
“The profit margins were much better if we sold the oil ourselves, instead of putting the rapeseed onto the back of a lorry, to be crushed at about 46pc and sold cheaply. We refine it to about a 30pc yield to get more of the bad stuff out, improving the taste,” said Mr Mack.
In 2010 the Macks successfully applied for a European funding grant for 40pc of their £200,000 rapeseed oil production plant. The initiative also allowed the family to feed the by-product rapeseed pellets to their 140 cattle.
“We had installed a biomass boiler in 2007, which was providing the heat for the site,” said Mr Mack. “However we were using a huge amount of electricity crushing the rapeseed oil so we installed solar panels which provided the electricity for the oil plant, the cow shed, and the farm buildings.”
With a growing list of consumer-facing products the Macks opened a farm shop and brought in marketing staff – seeing the benefits of greater promotion across the diversification projects.
Yet these diversification products comprise around 10pc of the output of the farm, which has an annual turnover of around £500,000.
Although the projects have cost around half a million pounds through the years, Mr Mack said they are hugely beneficial to the businesses’ top line.
“Agriculture is a difficult industry, but having different income streams does increase your confidence. It’s especially helpful to have reliable income throughout the year. When we harvest it’ll be months before we see any return for the work, so it maintains our cash flow more evenly,” Mr Mack added.
A diverse range of income streams:
Across the 800-acre site at Surlingham, the Mack family have sought to maximise every available asset – and they have also looked to become more self-sufficient by marrying up the needs of some businesses with the output of another.
The business includes:
• The renting of six cottages to tenants.
• Renting of farm buildings to other businesses, such as a patisserie and bee keeper.
• Renting land to other businesses, such as the Winbirri Vineyard.
• Arable farming produce, including potatoes, rape seed, parsley, and cereal crops.
• A cattle herd producing beef.
• A rapeseed oil business: Yare Valley Oils.
• A commercial swimming pool on site for private hire.
• A farm shop selling produce from the site and other nearby businesses.
• Green energy sources such as solar panels.