Collaboration is the key to farm diversification – as Jeremy Clarkson has found out

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We look at how the Clarkson’s Farm TV show has highlighted how farmers can ease the burden of diversification projects by sharing the load.

He’s a TV presenter, quiz show host, controversial columnist and now owner of Diddly Squat Farm – it’s fair to say Jeremy Clarkson has a few strings to his bow.

However, even the most multitalented farmer may find that those who attempt being a Jack of all trades end up being a master of none.

In an economic landscape where farmers are under increasing pressure to diversify, and are potentially running multiple businesses on their land, partnering with another business or specialist can be more appealing than trying to go it alone.

For example, in Clarkson’s own venture into brewing – the creation of his Hawkstone lager and cider range – he was wise enough to buddy up with a local brewery rather than getting wrapped up with the operational detail of brewing the beer.

He can now drink to an undoubted success after Hawkstone became the best-selling beer on Amazon – although the publicity from the TV show won’t have done him any harm.

Why collaborate?

Had he attempted to brew on his own, Clarkson would have had to deal with headaches far worse than anything a session on his beer could cause.

Apart from the complex brewing process itself, he would have had to contend with the planning requirements for an on-site brewery, finding retailers, bottle and label design, finding retailers, marketing… the list goes on.

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Especially when venturing into new and uncharted territory, it can be enormously helpful – and more profitable in the long run – to partner with somebody who has already travelled the path.

In this way you can reduce your costs – including the administrative, legal and staffing burden – and embark on the project in the knowledge that it’s lower risk than starting out on your own.

Look for better ways to do what you’re already doing

Farmers can have a mentality that means they carry on doing what they’ve always done, and nobody could do it better. That’s sometimes the case, but often a collaboration can unlock increased profits and reduced risk – a win-win.

In the first series of Clarkson’s Farm, Clarkson had a sheep enterprise that was proving hard to handle. He got rid of the animals – but instead of simply selling them, he gave them to a local sheep farmer to add to his flock.

Clarkson simply took a stake in that farming operation in return, with the result that he avoids the challenges of sheep farming but still gets a ready supply of lamb for his farm shop.

It was a smart approach that maintained the integrity of the enterprise and still provided a good income while spreading the burden.

Formalise your arrangements

You may shake hands with another farmer, supplier or third party to agree a collaboration, but any arrangement that has an impact on your rural business needs to be formalised. Failure to clearly set out terms and responsibilities now will store up problems for later.

Seek advice and think carefully about what these collaboration agreements should look like. For example, if another business is using your land are they going to be a tenant, or are you entering into a joint venture?

Being clear from the outset about things like financial arrangements, length of agreement, share of profits, tax, administration, the allocation of responsibilities and who is responsible if something goes wrong will set you in good stead for future success.

The Thrings Agriculture team has been chosen by the NFU to act for its members in more counties than any other firm. Find out more about how we can support farmers, food producers and rural communities on our Information for Farmers page.

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