08 February 2007, 19:22 PM

  • Farm businesses should take a fresh look at diversification opportunities in order to expand, says Sir Don Curry.

Delegates at the Great North Meet conference received the message from Sir Don Curry earlier this week when he stated that too many of the region’s producers were finding excuses to avoid exploring new ideas, but he believed there was “huge potential” for further growth.

“We don’t need every farmer to diversify,” said Sir Don, chairman of DEFRA’s Sustainable Farming and Food Delivery Group. “However a new retail outlet, for example, can open up markets for other farms in the area.

“Diversification can be a simple matter of a farmer’s wife selling home-produced marmalade, or working at a local farm attraction. Both options will contribute to the family income.”

He continued by explaining that farms could take advantage of tourism, by considering farm trail or off-roading enterprise. “Public procurement is another area which should be targeted,” he added.

Jo Celerier, director of Blagdon Farm Shop, near Newcastle predicted that core farming enterprises would remain the “bread and butter” of the agricultural industry, and was worried that the number of farm shops was reaching its limit in some parts of the country. “I am optimistic about the future of farming in our region,” said Miss Celerier. “We have fantastic people and wonderful produce, although I am concerned about the ability of some of the regulatory bodies to fully understand the problems we face.

“There is already a high density of farm shops in some parts of southern England, and supermarkets are also chasing our business. They are starting to offer local foods and telling a story about how they are produced,” she said. Adding, “The dwindling number of local abattoirs is another worry, because our unique selling point partly depends on reducing food miles,” said Miss Celerier.