NFU Mutual reports ‘surge in farm diversification…’

A recent survey undertaken by NFU Mutual and published in Farmers Weekly reported a surge in the proportion of farmers making an income from a diversified business. (

37% of farm businesses reported diversified interests – up from 31% last year. In 2018, this figure was 28%.

Income from non-farming enterprises as a percentage of total business turnover also increased to 16%.

The most popular types of diversified enterprise were reported as; Renewable energy, residential letting, holiday accommodation, equestrian, farm shops and caravan / camping sites.

In England alone, 43% of farms have diversified interests…

Drivers behind this change are reported to be changes to BPS, the risk of cheaper food imports, the Covid pandemic and the resulting demand for ‘staycations.’ Brexit was not mentioned… Jokes – of course it was, and it will be reported as the driver for everything forever more…

What is interesting about this is that the planning system was not mentioned… Back in the mid 2000’s planning was regularly identified as a principal barrier to rural diversification. Since then the system has eased considerably…

As well as being a crack Planning Consultant I can also help with insomnia. If you’re reading this late at night because you can’t sleep – I can help. Seek out the National Planning Policy Framework… Turn to page 23 and there ye shall behold Paragraph 83 ‘Supporting a prosperous rural economy.’ Here, the Government directs Local Planning Authorities to enable:

  1. The sustainable growth and expansion of all types of business in rural areas, both through conversion of existing buildings and well-designed new buildings:
  2. the development and diversification of agricultural and other land-based rural businesses.
  3. sustainable rural tourism and leisure developments which respect the character of the countryside;

This policy is a material consideration. It has set the Government’s direction of travel in favour of rural economic development and offers farmers and other rural business and landowners a solid base from which to really push their Local Authorities armed with a robust application which has the weight of Government policy behind it.

Whether the easing of planning policy in terms of rural development was a driver behind the growth in diversified farm incomes is an interesting question. What is certain is that the relatively benign planning landscape will have significantly helped drive the increase and continues to offer myriad opportunities for development. The current policy climate is an opportunity to be taken advantage of.