The various ways to make your farm business more profitable, secure for the future and potentially bring in additional income, were all covered as part of a new farm sustainability programme offered by Rural Support.

In total, 43 farmers enrolled in the pilot programme, delivered through the CAFRE Farm Families Key Skills initiative, which concluded with a workshop at Loughry campus last Friday.

Among the speakers was CAFRE dairy adviser Trevor Alcorn, who recounted some of what he learned from his Nuffield Scholarship in 2015. He said it taught him that there are four types of farmer.

The first is a ‘sunset’ farmer, where there is no successor and no significant debt, coupled with a moderate level of performance, so the owner is happy to coast along to retirement.

The second is a lifestyle’ farmer, where there is off-farm income, so the focus is on having a simple set up, along with technology, to keep labour input to a minimum. The third is ‘niche’, with a farm diversification enterprise added.

The final is a ‘commodity’ producer, which is profit driven, large scale and the focus remains on milk production. “There are quite a few of them in NI,” suggested Trevor.

Any farm aiming to be successful going forward, he said, must look to improve efficiency, focus on manageable expansion and grasp opportunities. “People get bored when they stand still,” he said.


He warned that on-farm diversification can sometimes take the focus off the core farm business and highlighted the need for good communication at all times among family members.

“Communication between fathers and sons in farm businesses can be non-existent. If your business is to grow, you need to be able to communicate,” Trevor said.

Question mark over future fertiliser use

Having operated a spring-calving dairy system using high rates of fertiliser for over 30 years, Dundonald farmer Tim Morrow is reassessing his system.

“Putting on high rates of fertiliser – I’m not convinced that is right anymore,” he told attendees at the Rural Support event.

As well as milking around 250 cows on 105ha, the Morrow family operate the 10ha Streamvale open farm and have direct interaction with the general public. Their aim is to be profitable, while also improving farm biodiversity. “I think you can do both,” said Tim.

In the last two years, he has planted 40ac of multi-species swards (MSS). With no nitrogen applied, he believes the swards will be a big part of future management.

“I have been really impressed. What is the downside of it?” he asked.

Farm diversification can take many forms

Diversification can range from an egg or veg honesty box, to a milk vending machine, glamping pods or a coffee shop, farm consultant, Graeme Cooke told last weeks’ event.

He defined farm diversification as being when the business branches out from traditional farming by adding new money-making activities.

“You have to be wired in a certain way. For some, it is not for them,” he said, adding that very few actually fail because farm families will work long hours to keep it afloat. “That means your family need to buy into it,” he warned.

Having worked in Scotland, Graeme returned to the family beef and sheep farm outside Gortin, Tyrone in 2016. He started a farm consultancy business, and has since opened a coffee shop (the Auld Bank Coffee Shop) and a clothes store (the Auld Forge) in Gortin.

Avoid surprises in farm succession

One of the key objectives of the new farm sustainability programme was to look at the effective transfer of business assets through succession planning.

Speaking at the workshop, Gillian Reid from Rural Support highlighted there is much more to succession planning than simply making a will. Good communication is vital, and the entire farm family should be involved.

“There should be no surprises. Poor planning is going to hurt the people who matter to you,” she said, adding that your will should be “the best you can do for right now”.

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