Manage income in post-CAP era

Will and Donald Greenwood have set their stall out to maximise income from every conceivable asset on their 364 downland and brook-land hectares (900 acres) at Swanborough Farm, near Lewes, East Sussex.

The desire to create new business opportunities is high on the agenda of many visitors attending the Lloyds TSB/Farmers Weekly Developing Income Programme meetings.

“A few years back it became clear that virtually everything in the commercial world is index-linked, apart from the things farmers produce.

All our inputs went up every year but, encouragingly, so did the price of other products and services we could generate,” said Will.

Will and his father Donald decided to diversify to maximise income, exploit their talents and develop their interests while preserving the farm as a potential productive unit should market conditions change.

“Everything we have done has been guided by those principles.

Apart from three fishing lakes, everything could go back to agricultural production if the economic climate changed,” said Will.

The “everything” covers a comprehensive range of business diversification and environmental development.

Swanborough Farm Fishing Lakes, with its excellent head of specimen coarse fish, is an established venue for south-of-England anglers.

Day tickets cost 12, collected by Will and Donald at the bank side.

The lakes, originally a hard-to-farm wet area, cost 12,000 to dig out and stock, and payback was achieved in about four years.

The farm has its own landing strip and hill suitable for hang-gliding.

Will is a keen flyer and reckoned the facility could earn its keep and provide an outlet for his personal interest.

DIY livery in a few stables in a barn has developed into 13 purpose-built units, with more on the way, and there are plans to put in better schooling and chasing facilities.

The farm offers good access to the downs and can achieve 70 a month per horse.

Swanborough plays host to a sporting game shoot, reckoned to be one of the best partridge shoots in Sussex.

“You don’t have to do every-thing yourself,” said Will.

“The game business is a joint venture between the keeper, Ian Tullett, who rents the shoots and puts down the birds, and the farm, which manages the environment and cover crops.

We can take about eight guns a day and shoot two to three days a week from September to the end of January.

“We offer quality corporate days at 27 a bird and more relaxed walk-round days for locals at 17 a bird.

We offer bag targets and have not missed one all season.”

In addition to providing cover for the birds, the farm is involved in an arable-to-grassland reversion scheme covering 69ha (170 acres) in 2005 and a further 24ha (60 acres) in 2006.

Anthony Becvar, FWAG farm conservation adviser for Sussex and east Kent, has been a big help.

Will estimates that the environmental schemes will earn 30,000 a year within a couple of years.

The target will be entry into the Higher Level Scheme.

“The best of the arable land is being rented out, machinery has been rationalised down to the essentials needed for game cover and grass management and a programme of farm building conversion has achieved a handful of successful businesses in and paying rent,” said Will.

Financial management is crucial.

An outlying field is being sold to finance further development and rationalise the overdraft.

A close working relationship with Lloyds TSB regional agricultural manager Graham Sanders is seen as a key contributor to success.

“The golden rules are to do things which interest you to minimise the learning curve and to ensure that new business opportunities have a steady cash flow,” said Mr Sanders.

“Add in good advice and sensible budgeting and there is real scope for developing income over and above conventional farming.”