Bringing people into the countryside — the key to building a sustainable rural business
More than half of the population lives in urban areas and 1.5 million people are added to the global urban population every week, that’s according to professional services firm PwC.
This worldwide trend makes rural business growth and a sustainable future for the agriculture sector a global issue.
Bearing this trend in mind, as well as the challenging economic and political backdrop farmers face, how can rural businesses encourage investment and best develop their assets to create sustainable opportunities and income streams?
At the NFU Farming Conference 2018, secretary of state Michael Gove said: “The more connected we all are to the countryside, the more we know and appreciate what’s involved in farming and food production, the more understanding I think there will be of the need to value and support what farmers do.”
One of the main strands for future support from the government based on delivering public benefits — plus, a recent online poll by Scottish Environment LINK showed 77% of Scots surveyed believe subsidies should be geared towards helping farmers and land managers deliver environmental benefits.
This means there is an increasing need for this drive to “open the countryside for business.”
The good news is that here in Scotland, we’re already seeing some great examples of diversification: from yurts and farm tours, to holiday cottages, soft play areas and meat and milk sales direct to the consumer.
But over the long-term, success will hinge on attracting more people to the countryside from urban areas — whether that be employees, family members with great ideas and vision for the family business returning to the fold, or indeed members of the public keen to buy produce or use services and facilities.
With diversification and growth also comes the opportunity to address succession: the more successful a farm and its associated enterprises, the more there will be to pass on to future generations.
Involvement across the generations — drawing on people’s varying perspectives, ideas and expertise — can take farms beyond traditional land management and prove central to building a business that will thrive, rather than just survive.
Ongoing pressures on sources of funding, coupled with the particular challenges rural businesses face, means being organised and well managed is imperative in staying ahead of the competition.
These problems, including connectivity, transport links and attractingemployees, all need to be addressed, but unfortunately on a practical level are often largely outside the control of rural business owners.
Control the controllables — plan to succeed
Auditing the capital of the rural business must be the first step.
A true understanding of the available opportunities will clarify the options for making the businesses as ‘sustainable’ as possible. The ‘capital’ can often be human capital: finding the right person for the right job can have a huge impact.
Specialists can advise on the best way to structure a rural business, protect the asset base and review funding options to deliver developments: working in a team to deliver growth and sustainability for a business and create a secure succession plan for future generations.
With an ever-increasing burden of regulation being imposed on businesses from land reform to employment law issues; brand protection to planning regulations and increasingly complex environmental law issues to contend with, it has never been more important to create a team environment where the right people are available and on hand to support business owners.
That, together with the ultimate end goal for succession, should inform the business growth plan, with preparation for the exit — and re-entry — of members being taken into account: avoiding a situation where the business is negatively impacted by inadequate planning and resultant family disputes.
In short, trusted advisors can alleviate increased burdens, such as planning regulations, access to funding, business structure and continuity planning.
This allows entrepreneurs to do what they do best and help build a sustainable future for rural businesses in an ever more complex and competitive market.
An earlier version of this article appeared in The Courier on 7 May.