OPINION: Let’s make the most of farming’s public image, says MICHAEL MACK of Savills

Michael Mack, of Savills' Norwich-based food and farming team.

Michael Mack, of Savills' Norwich-based food and farming team. - Credit: Savills

Cashing in on farming's public image can bring new opportunities for diversified rural ventures, says MICHAEL MACK, a Norwich-based farm and business management consultant with Savills, and managing agent for the National Farmers' Retail and Markets Association (Farma).

Why do supermarkets hold the farmer in such high esteem when talking to their consumers?

You don't have to linger long in the aisles to see the championing of farm produce. Farmers should be flattered by the compliment, but the bigger question is: why is this such an important part of big brand marketing strategy? And can we use it to grow grass roots farming businesses here?

With most commentators openly discussing the significant challenges facing commodity farming over the next five years, the need to identify new income streams has never been more evident.

There is public support for homegrown goods, and images of the horny-handed farmer on a product or service evokes a positive feeling in customers, channelling desirable characteristics such as hard-work, quality, freshness, health and flavour. This positive association also extends to tourism.

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Many farms are starting to make steps towards capturing this value for themselves. I travel across the country working with farm diversification projects and farm shops, and those that stand out have a both a clear connection to the customer and a real integrity about what they do.

To my mind there are two key groups which are important to understand: the baby boomers and the millennials. Collectively they represent more than 50pc of the population.

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Baby boomers grew up after the war – they are now retiring early, have good levels of disposable income and time. By contrast our millennials have grown up in a digital world, and computer screens run their lives. They are racking up massive debts for their education, struggle to afford mortgages and often are either living with mum and dad or in rented accommodation. The baby boomers are taking over Facebook, the millennials are swiftly moving away from this platform and onto Snapchat and Instagram.

When choosing who to engage with, both groups look to businesses that share their values, provide them with an experience, and treat them as an individual. This is why the first step in diversification has to be to research your future clientele.

When you've done this, and you have a clear diversification idea, issues such as grant funding and planning come into play. It's pleasing to see that access to grants through the Rural Growth Fund and LEADER means funding has never been easier but you need to focus on creating a strong, viable business with tangible benefits for the consumer.

Overall, the aim must be for a more diverse range of income streams that build on the characteristics which the public loves about the humble Norfolk farmer.

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