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Low risk diversification – a new way of thinking about farm income

Long ago, diversification on a farm meant adding a different crop or two, or farming with animals and crops to spread the risk. Nowadays, the definition is slightly different, as many farmers are trying to keep afloat through a variety of different ventures. Have you considered all the opportunities present on your farm?

Over the last decade or so, many traditional farms have become guesthouses; many guesthouses have become bespoke wedding venues; and yet others have included experiences or products as part of their diverse offering. Here are a few ideas you might like to consider on your farm, to add to your income without adding (too much) to your initial outlay or risk.

ACCOMMODATION

Let’s start with the most obvious. If you have extra rooms or cottages that could be turned into guest accommodation, it might be worth doing the sums and seeing what the cost would be to get them ready for guests. City dwellers love nothing more than escaping to the country for the weekend or a working holiday. You might be surprised at the income potential if you start doing the research. Even if you don’t have cottages you could rent out as getaway accommodation, you may have the perfect piece of land next to a stream or mountain that would be the ideal campsite. Look at what you may need to provide by way of ablutions or electricity and consider offering camping accommodation on your farm.

You could even go so far as to set up tents or tipis for a “glamping” option, like that on offer at Klaasvoogds in Robertson; or turn an old silo into a luxury double room, like the one at Bella Manga Country Escape. Do you have a Wendy House, hut, caravan or rondawel you can turn into a quirky accommodation option? Even if you’re making just R3000 most weekends, it adds up to a tidy sum of money over the year.

EXPERIENCES

Again, city dwellers love to escape, be out in nature and do something different. What could you offer to attract those caught up in the rat race to your farm? Perhaps fun-filled tours of your area? What about photography hikes, birdwatching experiences or even the experience of milking cows or feeding baby goats? Tractor rides, grape stomping, wine-making and fruit picking are just some of the many tasks that urban folk would happily pay money to do. Food experiences too, are extremely popular – tastings, pairings and lessons are just a few things you could consider. What about offering spitbraai experiences, lessons and equipment? What is the traditional food in your region? Perhaps you have mushrooms, herbs or medicinal or edible plants growing wild that could allow for a foraging weekend. Or maybe it’s as simple as carving out a cycle route, having a few mountain bikes to rent out and marketing your farm as a mountain biker’s paradise. Think outside the box and ask friends and family for their suggestions.

EDUCATION

Another experience you could offer is an educational experience. Think about what you and other members of your family are particularly skilled at and consider putting an educational course or workshop weekend together. There is no limit to the types of things people want to learn nowadays – this is a great time to get in on that action and sell your skills.

As a few examples – perhaps you could offer school trips, where the children learn about farming practises, the landscape, or fauna and flora. If you’re a chicken or egg farmer, you could teach a weekend course in chicken rearing, with chicks and a coop as part of the package. If you’re an organic veggie farmer, you could host monthly lessons on organic vegetable farming, including soil care, companion planting and maintenance, along with a few seedlings included. If your farm is abundant in succulents, what about a weekend succulent workshop, where visitors learn how to identify, propagate, plant and care for various succulents? What skills or knowledge do you and your family have, that others would like to learn?

Are you missing a passive income opportunity?
The classes, workshops or courses could be in-person and in-situ on the farm, or you could choose to create an online course, with videos. These could range from anything as simple as “how to grow the perfect cucumbers” to “how to set up a petting zoo”. Websites like Udemy and Coursera give very clear instructions on how to make and upload your courses and hundreds of thousands of ordinary people are making a passive income from imparting their knowledge via an online course or e-book.

LAND RENTAL

Perhaps you don’t have the time or inclination to create experiences for guests, but you have ample space to hire out to others who want to offer their unique experiences or events. People in cities have ideas and services to offer, but don’t have the land to make it happen. Consider different ways your space could bring you an additional income through collaboration with others. Maybe your farm is ideal for a yoga and SUP weekend retreat, a vegan food festival or a corporate teambuilding adventure. Do you have the perfect terrain to offer 4×4 or dirt bike experiences, or a beautiful shaded space to host a weekend market?

It could also be an option to rent part of your land out to people in nearby towns who wish to farm a small portion for themselves, similar to the allotment gardening that happens in the UK and parts of Europe.

PRODUCTS

Never before have “home-made”, “artisanal” and “craft” products been so popular. People are growing weary of store-bought, mass produced products and are looking for authentic goods, made with natural ingredients, by real people. What do you have in abundance that could be turned into a craft product that you could charge good money for?

You could, for instance, use your abundance of citrus fruits to create a new product, whether marmalade or a flavoured gin. Do you have aloe or buchu growing all over the place, not living up to its full potential as an ingredient in a simple homemade wellness product? If up until now you have only ever sold your veggies, maybe it could bring more profit if you processed some of them yourself and created a separate income stream – for instance by using your peppers to make a delicious harissa paste, or your basil to make a stunning pesto. Look at each resource you have and ask yourself if you have considered how else it might be used to create an income stream. These days, information and materials – everything from distillation equipment to chocolate moulds – are far easier to come by than they were long ago, and at affordable prices.

Farmers are by nature hard workers and entrepreneurs. Now more than ever, there is ample opportunity to find gaps in the market for what urban dwellers are looking for by way of accommodation, products, knowledge and experiences – and finding risk-free ways to create your own, unique offerings.

While there is no shortage of country and farm-style accommodation, these places book out quite quickly and there is clearly also no shortage of city folk looking for different types of country escapes.

The idea is that you take whatever you are currently offering and think of ways to take that to the next level. Tap into all your resources, not only the traditional farming resources, such as land and animal stocks. Bring what you and your family enjoy and are good at into your offering and into the way you get word out. Your teenage children might be really good at “computer stuff” – get them to set up and manage social media accounts for you. If you are already geared up as a wedding venue, perhaps consider becoming a licensed wedding officiant or get the family’s most keen photographer to take a wedding photography course. The more you can offer, the more your clients save and the more you can make in profit

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Nikki is an experienced copywriter with a BA in Communication Science and 20 years’ experience. After spending 10 years at some of Cape Town’s top agencies, she decided to go solo – and she’s never looked back. When she’s not writing articles for magazines or corporate companies, she keeps herself busy with public speaking and writing books for children. She enjoys pottering around in her veggie garden that continues to outgrow its borders, likes to take walks or to spend time with her menagerie of pets.

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