How do I make my farm attractive?
Livestock farms are always popular with the public but all farms are likely to have at least one or two features that will pull people in, says Janet Hickinbottom of Farming and Countryide Education.
“Arable farms can be made equally interesting if the interpretation provided helps explain what is going on.
Any historic or environmental feature will also be of interest.”
The farm should look inviting and welcoming. Make sure “Private – Keep Out” signs are kept to a minimum. The yard should be relatively tidy with no barking dogs straining at the leash to keep visitors out. Not everyone has a pair of wellingtons and many visitors will turn up without them. So try to keep the farm as clean as possible and ensure areas and pathways to which visitors have access are kept free from any build-up of slurry. First impressions are important and the farm must be safe. Ask a friend to check the route of the farm walk and any areas that will be open to guests beforehand. Display tractors and implements outdoors rather than in darkened sheds.
I’m worried about health and safety
Farms can be dangerous places if the risks are not managed correctly, so you’ll need to put some safety precautions in place, says David Leavesley of NFU Mutual Risk Management Services.
“Make sure that routes around the farm divert visitors away from working machinery, chemical stores, slurry lagoons, grain stores and silage pits.
It is important that access to these danger areas is prohibited.”
- If visitors are allowed to pet and feed animals, make sure you or one of the farm staff is present to ensure animals are properly treated.
“If you don’t want visitors to have contact with any of the animals, then either arrange routes away from areas where animals are kept or install double fencing to prevent contact,” he says.
Everyone involved in hosting the visit must be instructed on what visitors should or should not do. If farming operations are taking place at the same time as the visit, keep a safe distance between the two. Plan your car parking arrangements so that visitors don’t cross in front of farm vehicles. If delivery vehicles are due on site, they should be made aware of the visit. While parents should stop their children straying into risk-prone areas, the farmer is also responsible for the safety of all visitors. Ideally carry out a full risk assessment. The Health and Safety Executive has specific advice regarding school groups and trailer rides on its website (see Further Information box).
Do I need to get extra insurance?
It depends on how often visits are hosted and the type of visitors involved.
It also depends on whether the farm is open as a commercial visitor attraction or is just taking occasional visitors.
Generally, you should have public liability insurance with a minimum cover limit of £2.5m, says Mr Leavesley. Farm policies do not need to be extended to cover occasional free visits – but insurers should be informed. If you operate commercial open days you’ll need specific insurance for the risks involved. The farm may need to be accredited under the Countryside Visits Accreditation Scheme. For school groups, local authorities will advise on the level of public liability cover needed.
Is a guided tour best or should I let people wander round?
All visits need some structure, says Roly Puzey, farms liaison manager with the environmental farming organisation LEAF, which organises a number of farm visits every year.
Approaches range from simply asking local residents to walk around the farm through to hourly guided tours.
“Try to plan a few fun activities or demonstrations with the crops, livestock and wildlife, and do not overload your guests with what you think they must know.
Keep it simple and fun.”
Everybody will be an expert in at least one subject.
You can use this as an opportunity to involve them to stimulate discussion, as well as give you some breathing space.
But others will know little, so avoid jargon.
Do I have to be very environmentally friendly to open my farm?
Farmers who are in an environmental stewardship scheme might like to draw attention to special farming practices, but it’s not essential.
“Ideally, identify one or two things that you would like your guests to go home having learnt or seen, such as how you aim to produce safe, affordable food alongside care for the wildlife and countryside,” says Mr Puzey.
“Above all, try to make the link between your farm and their fridges – if you process your own food, have it out on display.
If not, go and buy some that could have been produced on your farm to help visitors make the link.”
How many people are likely to turn up?
That depends on which approach you take.
An open day for neighbours, local villagers and friends could attract a large turnout if you put effort into publicity.
Alternatively, contacting a local club, society or school can be an effective way of inviting people on to your farm since you only need to deal with one person, such as a club chairman or teacher.
The average turnout for a closed group like this is between 10 and 20 people.
Organising a fun competition, such as welly-throwing, is one way of generating publicity.
It will give the event an extra edge that encourages visitors and it will make an interesting story for the local paper.
Advertising can be as simple as posters on notice boards, articles in parish magazines or – best of all – word of mouth.
But beware – it can attract lots of visitors.
If numbers are a problem, you can request that people contact you first to book a place.
How do I get the farming message across?
Information signs are a good way of informing visitors of dangers but are not a substitute for adequate supervision.
The farm should present a positive image of the agricultural industry.
Although it does not have to be overly clean and tidy, the public’s perception of health and hygiene is easily influenced by any adverse observations, however small.
One way of making the farm attractive is to ensure that farm staff make visitors feel welcome.
Farms are alien places to many people and it is important to make them feel at ease.
Many visitors will find the smells, mud and noise of a modern farm initially off-putting.
They might need some reassurance so making sure you can communicate at the right level and with enthusiasm is important.
For school groups, matching the visit to the curriculum is important.
Talk to the teacher first.
What if someone asks an awkward question?
Sooner or later it is bound to happen.
The dreaded question about how much money you receive in subsidies.
Other well-meaning visitors may question your ability to look after livestock.
Keep your response personal, rather than answering on behalf of the whole industry or defending other farmers whose practices you may disagree with.
In the case of animal welfare, highlight specific practices you are proud of.
Subsidies are best described as payments to deliver “public goods” such as access and wildlife habitats that are not recognised in the price of food.
Over-wintered stubble, for example, is a valuable source of food for birds and wildlife.
You can contact the LEAF office for a Speak Out “tool kit” to help you prepare for speaking to different audiences.
It provides advice on handling tricky questions.
It’s unlikely that anyone will try to disrupt the visit.
It’s much more likely that you will find people are genuinely interested in the way you farm, what you produce and what it’s used for.
Will I need to provide food and drink? What about toilets?
It depends on the size and number of visits that are going to take place.
That empty barn could be adapted as a dry area for people to meet or for an introductory display about the farm.
Where visitors are encouraged to pet animals you will need to provide warm running water, liquid soap and paper towels.
Merely providing a trough of water or cleansing wipes is not enough.
For larger events, toilet facilities will almost certainly be expected and may need to be hired.
Visitors won’t expect food to be provided and you can suggest in any publicity that they can bring a picnic.
Provide a clean, cowpat-free area of grass and make sure animals in adjacent fields or pens can’t be touched by those having the picnic.
Make sure there’s enough space to park.
Access for wheelchairs will be welcomed by parents with pushchairs as well as less able walkers who might need assistance.
Is there a danger of theft?
Most farms that run walks report that this isn’t a problem, but on rare occasions things can go missing.
So keep tools and ATVs out of sight and lock buildings and vehicles.
The evidence suggests, however, that farm visits lead to better understanding of the industry and so help reduce the possibility of vandalism rather than increasing it
Should I charge?
If it’s a casual stroll around the farm, almost certainly not.
If it’s a full-scale visitor attraction with play area and rare breeds, then you will want to charge, but check what’s on offer locally before you decide your prices.
Many farmers who open their farms to the public do not charge anything at all.
But if you have a cause close to your heart – such as a local school, hospital or church – a farm visit is a great opportunity to raise funds for a local charity.
What about school visits?
Hosting a school visit can be an excellent way of educating children about farming, food and the countryside.
The first move is to get in touch with Farming and Countryside Education (FACE), which operates a training and accreditation scheme for farm premises.
Arrange a meeting with teaching staff on site before the visit.
This is not only an ideal way of conveying any health and safety arrangements, but can also help ensure that both parties get the most from the visit.
Pre-visit packs for schools are a useful way of advising visitors of good hygiene precautions and other precautions; FACE can provide specific advice on these.