Farming has always been a gruelling job, with unsociable hours, physical exertion and the unpredictability of the climate to deal with. And, for a long time, British farmers have been struggling financially. According to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the average income for English general cropping farmers decreased by 21% year-on-year in the period 2019-20. Were it not for generous EU subsidies, many would have gone out of business years ago.
Faced with these challenges, many farmers are diversifying into other, more profitable ventures – most commonly as B&Bs, wedding venues, solar farms or farm shops. We visited four who have taken more unusual routes.
The quad biking experience: ‘The sheep are used to it; they’re not too bothered’
Mythe Farm in Atherstone, Warwickshire
Joe Garland, 43, is the third generation to farm Mythe Farm, a 150-acre sheep and arable farm. He started diversifying almost as soon as he took over the farm from his father, Peter, in 2004. “At that point, farming was going through a pretty tough time,” Garland says. The BSE scandal had driven many of his peers out of livestock farming entirely, while the price of milk was constantly being pushed down by the supermarkets.
“The only people left in dairy were doing it in a massive way,” he says. “The prices are low and the margins are low. You have to have lots of equipment and more and more acres.” Mythe Farm wasn’t big enough to compete. “A 150-acre farm will never be a massive business any more,” says Garland. “It’s barely viable from a farming point of view.”
Over the years, Garland has grown the farm’s alternative revenue streams. Now, farming accounts for barely 20% of their revenue. Mythe Farm offers weddings, corporate hospitality events and, more unusually, extreme 4×4 and quad biking experiences. The quad biking skirts the farm’s arable fields. “We just incorporated it into the farm’s existing design,” says Garland. “We made a few small alterations to make it interesting, especially when you are going through the trees. But there were no massive earthworks – we just worked with what was there.