In the second of our Fertile Minds roadshows, we look at setting up a successful diversification and how to work with retailers to get the best outcomes.

Listen to the podcast with agricultural consultant James Miles-Hobbs and fruit grower Anthony Snell and read the event report and below.

Successful diversifications

Working with people is key to success with diversification, rural business consultant James Miles-Hobbs told young farmers at the Fertile Minds roadshow in Bristol.

“You have to like people more than cows,” said Mr Miles-Hobbs, who co-founded the consultancy JMH Farming & Renewables.

See also: Podcast: Fertile Minds on retailers and business plans

“Diversification generally means engaging with people in one way or another, even if it’s a small traditional diversification, which is letting commercial premises or residential properties.

“Unlike cows, people change their minds, argue with you, want a refund, and so on. Cows are much more regular – they come in twice a day to be milked.”

Managing farm visitors

Those starting diversification projects need to think about how to manage the people who come to their farm.

“The easiest way to manage people is with signage. Do not manage them with people you employ,” he said.

Mr Miles-Hobbs added farmers should think about who their target customers are and what those customers need when diversifying.

Tight car parking spaces and step-only access are off-putting for elderly customers who struggle to get around.

Young urban professionals who are cash-rich but time-poor will pay more for a service or product if it saves them time.

Plan B

It is also important to have a plan B for your diversification project.

“I’ve seen too many plan As not work, so you have to think about plan B,” said Mr Miles-Hobbs.

He suggested setting milestones for projects so you can assess whether your plan is being met.

“If you are way off achieving your goals that is quite significant – you’ve got to be very, very brave and say, ‘right, I’m writing this off and starting again’.”

Working with supermarkets

In his talk about working with supermarkets Anthony Snell, co-owner of Herefordshire berry growers AJ & CI Snell, told the roadshow’s attendees that there is strength in numbers.

“We are part of a co-operative, called Berry Gardens, of 56 growers,” he said.

“For a fruit grower like myself, producing fruit for six months of the year, there is no way you can just go to the supermarkets. You will be picked off.”

The soft fruits sector, he said, has been successful because it has worked with supermarkets to promote its products and because growers have joined forces.

“The fact that we are collaboratively working together doesn’t mean we have got complete clout – we can’t control prices – but we can work more closely, put forward our prices and produce what the market wants.”

Supply and demand

Reconciling supply and demand is vital, he added.

“You only need to produce 1% too much of any product and you will probably see a price reduction of up to 10%,” Mr Snell explained.

“You have to produce what the market wants – you don’t want shortfalls. But you also don’t want oversupply.

“Sadly, in a lot of sectors in agriculture there isn’t enough planned marketing.”

Attendee Natalie Plummer said the roadshow offered “real insight into understanding the market place”.

“Events like this are really valuable to young people such as ourselves and it is good to be able to discuss the future of our industry with experts and like-minded individuals,” she added.

  • Thanks to NFU Mutual whose sponsorship made it possible to run the Fertile Minds roadshows. Farmers Weekly had full editorial control of this report.

What is Fertile Minds?

An initiative to help young farmers and those hoping to get into agriculture

Provides inspirational business advice – its main event is an annual conference

This year Farmers Weekly, in association with NFU Mutual, is taking Fertile Minds on tour

At five regional roadshows for small groups of business-minded new entrants, those attending choose the topics, allowing them to get expert advice on what they want to know about most

The second roadshow took place in Bristol last week

In January the roadshows will be in Cambridge and York. If you would like to apply to attend email james.williams@rbi.co.uk

Read more about Fertile Minds.

Sponsor message

NFU Mutual's logo

“The Bristol roadshow offered young farmers valuable expert advice on two of the most pressing topics for those starting out in agriculture: how to diversify and how to work with supermarkets.”

“NFU Mutual is pleased to be supporting these events, which give young people vital knowledge as they begin their careers.”