South strong in diversifying

MORE THAN two-thirds of farms in the south-east of England have diversified compared with only 37% of units in the north of the country, according to DEFRA.

Farm Business Survey figures show that farms in England made 300m from diversified activities last year, but there are big regional differences in the number of farms that have branched out into alternative enterprises.

The statistics, published last Thurs (Jan 27), show that 48% of farms in England have diversified and average earnings were 5000 per farm.

But farmers in the south- east made more than 111m through diversification compared with 10.2m in the north-west and 23.8m in the north-east.

Analysis of the figures shows that the number one choice of diversification enterprise is letting out buildings for non-farming uses such as offices or storage.

Nearly 40% of producers have let out buildings while only 7% have gone into processing and retailing of farm produce.

On a national basis, 8% of diversified farmers are engaged in tourism but the proportion does rise to 20% or more in the east, south-east and south-west of the country.

Cereal farms are the most likely to have diversified while hill grazing farms are the least likely to have found ways to boost income through non-farming enterprises.

Other findings include the fact that the proportion of tenant farmers who have diversified is lower than the national average (38%), but the average size of their enterprises is similar to those run by owner-occupiers.

Carl Hudspith, spokesman for the NFU in the north-west of England, acknowledged there were still many farmers in the region who were commodity-based producers.

But he added: “Farmers in the region are very willing to diversify and there is lots going on. We have some excellent food producers who are members of North West fine foods.

” Since October 2000, the government has awarded over 34m in grants through the Rural Enterprise Scheme to help farmers branch out.