How to start a farm business
If you want to work for yourself and spend lots of time in the great outdoors, consider starting a farm business. Learn how with our guide here
Imagine a farm – what comes to mind? Most likely a field with sheep, or a barn with cows, along with a tractor and the farmer themselves.
Organic, dairy, cereals, livestock – these are just a few examples of the different types of farms in the UK. Given such variety – and with potentially significant changes ahead in the sector due to Brexit and the impact of new technology – it’s currently a dynamic, interesting time to start a farm business, or consider agriculture business ideas in general.
But how do you go about doing that, exactly? We’ll provide a step-by-step guide to starting a farm business that provides the answers to the key questions you need to know.
In this article, we’ll cover:
- Training and regulations
- Types of farm businesses
- Potential earnings
- Promoting and expanding a farm business
1. Training and regulations
While there isn’t one set route into running your own farm business, it’s useful to know which training you may need to complete, as well as what regulations you’ll need to abide by.
What training is required?
To manage a farm, you should have:
- Practical experience – before opening your own farm business, it would be wise to have some real-life experience on a working farm to understand how this type of business works. If you’re still in full-time employment, consider volunteering on a farm at the weekends.
- Driving licence – whether it’s getting from one side of the farm to another, or transporting goods into town, knowing how to drive can be essential.
- Formal qualifications – while not mandatory, it can be useful to have completed more structured training too, such as a diploma, apprenticeship or degree in an agricultural subject. Alternatively, qualifications and experience gained in other sectors could be transferred to managing a farm business too.
What regulations do you need to comply with?
There are many laws and regulations that you’ll need to know about, and consequently abide by, when opening a farm. Which rules will apply to your business will often depend on the type of farm you operate.
Generally, you’re expected to comply with health and safety regulations, as well as laws that govern how the animals and produce you farm is reared and supplied. This includes:
- Planning permission – this is governed by your local authority and is usually applicable if you want to change what you use your farm or land for, or to build a house.
- Farm vehicles must be registered with the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) and meet health and safety requirements.
- Land used for agricultural purposes should be registered with the Rural Land Register.
- If your farm creates milk products you need to register with the Food Standards Agency (FSA), which is the organisation responsible for ensuring food safety in the UK.
- Health and safety – you’ll need to be aware of, and follow guidance on health and safety on farms from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). This includes conducting risk assessments where necessary, such as assessing the safety of using buildings or hazardous chemicals, as well as handling livestock.
- Food standards and accreditations – to ensure food is of a high quality and traceable (Red Tractor), or to ensure organic farming methods have been used (Soil Association organic certification).
2. Types of farm businesses
When you think about starting a farm, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the possibilities. In this section, we’ll break down some of the different types of farm businesses, and offer practical advice to help you decide which is best for you.
How to start a poultry farm business: Key points to consider
- Decide if you want to run a farm that rears chickens for eggs (layers) or for their meat (broilers)
- Consider how the chickens will be raised – in barns or free-range?
- Assess what type of poultry you will farm – chickens may be more popular, but it’s also possible to rear ducks, geese and turkeys on a poultry farm too
- Think about the equipment you’ll need to keep your poultry safe in general, and protected from predators
How to start a vegetable farm business: Key points to consider
- Consider what type of vegetables you want to grow, and check if it’s possible on the land and soil you’re planning to farm on
- Think about what type of irrigation system you’ll use to water your vegetables
- Decide if you’ll grow organic or non-organic produce – be sure to get the required accreditation if you’re intending to grow the former
- Assess how many different varieties of each vegetable you want to grow, in addition to the number of different types
Some examples of other types of farms include:
- Dairy – rearing cows or goats to produce milk for sale
- Cereals – growing crops such as barley, oat and wheat
- Pig – rearing pigs indoors or outdoors for pork products
- Fruit – growing apples, strawberries or raspberries, for example
At this stage, you’ve got a good idea of what’s involved in opening a farm, so you’re probably wondering how to run a farm as a business. In this section, we’ll examine the costs involved, and how much you could potentially earn.
How much does it cost to start a farm business?
Buildings and outbuildings – while your farmland may come with buildings already, you’ll need to ensure they match your farming requirements. Similarly, you may need to extend or add outbuildings or other structures as your farm business expands, so be sure to factor these costs into your budget.
Equipment – the equipment you need will depend on the type of farm business you decide to start, as outlined in the section above. Find out if you need to buy the equipment, if it’s possible to rent the items that you need, or if you can get them second-hand. Read our page on farm equipment for more detailed information about the costs involved.
Land – this will be one of the major costs of starting your farm business. While land is often inherited, that’s not the only option: it’s also possible to buy or rent farmland in the UK too. You’ll need to consider how much land you need for the crops or livestock you intend to farm.
Insurance – there are a number of ways in which you should protect your farm business, and taking out adequate business insurance policies is key. You’re likely to need contents insurance for your equipment, as well as building insurance for your property.
Similarly, consider business interruption insurance to cover your business should you be unable to operate. If you take on staff, you’ll need employers’ liability insurance too. Ensure you find policies that match the requirements of running a farm specifically.
4. Potential earnings
It can be difficult to give an indication of how much you would expect to make from your farm business, as there are a lot of variables to take into account. These include:
- What crops or livestock you farm
- How many income streams you have – diversifying your farm’s offering may help to increase your earnings (see below for more information)
- Schemes you participate in, such as subsidies and environmental schemes
How much farming experience you have, as well as national and international politics, can all affect demands for farming – and in turn, earnings. Plus, weather can also have a big impact on harvests from year to year.
5. Promoting and expanding a farm business
After the initial set-up, next it’s time to think about how to grow your business. In this section, we’ll outline some of the best ways to promote and expand your farm business.
Whichever ways you decide to market your farm business, ensure you have your target audience – the customers you’re trying to appeal to – at the forefront of your decision-making process.
While your farm may be located in a rural area, don’t let geography stop you from using social media to reach out to people, both within your local community and further afield.
By contrast, LinkedIn and Twitter are text-based, so they’re ideal for positioning you and your farm business as an industry leader through sharing articles or joining forums. Facebook has a range of features, although its messaging function could be ideal for responding to customer enquiries.
You’ll need to create a website so that people can easily find information about your farm online, as well as ensuring that you have somewhere to direct traffic to from your social media posts.
A website should have key information about your farm, such as contact details, as well as information about your team members and your produce.
Initially, you could use a website builder to create your own website. As your business develops and your website requirements become more complex (whether that’s a booking form for farm visits or an e-commerce store to sell your goods, for example), you may need to hire a professional web developer.
Trade shows, association events and networking sessions all offer opportunities to further promote your farm business.
Connect with other attendees at these meetings to develop a network of farming industry professionals, as well as those that work in related sectors. Be sure to bring your business cards!
While it’s important to have an online presence, don’t dismiss traditional marketing. Some ways of promoting your farm offline include:
- Brochures and leaflets – you could distribute them at community halls and local amenities, for example
- Print ads – promote your farm in local or regional newspapers and magazines, as well as trade publications
- Radio – create a jingle or ad yourself, or with an agency, to promote your farm on radio stations and country shows relevant to your target audience. This could be especially useful to reach those customers who also live in rural areas, and who may be unable to easily access the internet due to poor signal strength
What are the next steps?
By reading this article, you’ve gained an understanding of how to start a farm business, including what training and regulations you’ll need to complete and follow, as well as some of the potential costs and earnings. We’ve also looked at different types of farm businesses, plus how to promote and expand your business.
So where do you go from here? Next, you should read our article on farm equipment for insight into the equipment you’ll need to start your farm business!