While the recent global economic crisis has had a profound effect on many UK industries, livestock farmers have been dealing with major economic set-backs throughout history, with instances such as the BSE epidemic in the mid-80s - and outbreaks of diseases such as foot and mouth, TB and swine fever - being most memorable for those of younger generations.
Consequently, over the last two decades farmers who had previously relied on livestock as a major part of their income have diversified in order to ensure more financial stability for themselves and their families - and this diversification trend has led to a number of intriguing developments and projects on UK farms. At an April 2009 Agrical conference paying host to many industry experts, it was estimated that 50 percent of UK farms have now diversified.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, a number of farmers located in regions popular with tourists are finding considerable success with offering Bed & Breakfast and holiday home facilities. This is a trend that is particularly popular with those who have buildings free for conversion or sufficient space to develop on unused land - and these are often the prevailing factors which make rural farms ideal locations to cater for tourists.
The Henly family at Bucklawren Farm in Looe, Cornwall are a prime example of making new use of both existing buildings and the land that surrounds them. They have converted barns and stables into five self-catering cottages within their farm grounds just a mile from the beach. In addition the farm now also boasts an acclaimed restaurant which prides itself on locally sourced produce.
Despite the popularity of appealing to couples and families, other farmers in the South West are offering more niche facilities to visitors in the area. Woodland Valley in Ladock is owned by Chris and Janet Jones who, after the Eden Project opened in 2001, decided to open residential facilities for visiting school parties.
This has since developed into a study centre for those with an interest in farming, sustainability and ecology - a more economical use for their own stone buildings which 'were no longer suitable for modern farming.' Much like the changes at Bucklawren, the need to diversify has had more than an economical effect on the workings of the farm itself - and has even stimulated its conversion to being fully organic.
Despite the positive economic outcomes of diversification, this increasing trend does bring new considerations such as public safety and holiday home insurance to the fore - at the same time as maintaining a working farm. The number of farmers looking to follow the footsteps of Bucklawren and Woodland Valley Farm by making the most of their land and buildings in a 21st Century context is set to carry on growing - with farms in other parts of the country allowing the use of their land for music festivals and sporting events also.
Farm diversification has arrived and is here to stay.