How to prepare for change and make the most of new opportunities

With numerous changes ahead, now is the time to make plans, says Gemma Sparks of Blackdown Consulting, based on the Somerset/Devon border. Here, she shares her advice on how farm businesses can prepare for change.

“Farmers have a lot of uncertainty to balance at the moment,” says land agent and agricultural advisor Gemma Sparks. “As well as shifting legislation, the transition away from basic payments and increasing fertiliser prices, some sectors are also facing specific challenges such as new rules around dairy farm slurry storage.”

Gemma works with a range of farming businesses, advising on everything from the basic payment scheme and environmental schemes to planning applications and diversification projects. Supporting clients during periods of change is an important part of her work.

Embracing change is safer than ignoring it

She describes two main reactions to change: “The first is people burying their head in the sand. They try to continue doing what they’re doing, ignoring the changes and the impact they might have on their business. In the long term, this reaction is not sustainable and could mean the business becomes unviable.

“However, I also see lots of businesses willing to embrace change despite concerns and questions they may have.”

The reasons for contrasting reactions are varied too: “For those approaching or who have already reached retirement age, making substantial alterations to your business can be a daunting task. It can also be difficult for those who do not have a clear succession plan in place.”

Planning ahead can ease change-based pressures

Gemma’s advice is simple: “While it may be tempting, don’t bury your head in the sand. Look into your options as soon as you can and give yourself as much time as possible to consider what is right for your business. Leaving decisions to the last minute will just add extra pressure during an already difficult time.

“Make sure you take advice and consider the long-term plans for the farm and business. Take advantage of the opportunities which are out there, including free options such as the Future Farm Resilience Fund.”

Starting to plan early can also mean you avoid feeling pushed into a corner which can make your business unworkable, she adds. “Always look for options which you can put in place without having to make significant changes to your farm. What will help you create more income without substantial changes to the business?”

For those looking to make a bigger change, such as a diversification project, Gemma advises playing to strengths. “Diversification can be a great way to create more income, but it is important to only consider options which suit your farm and lifestyle. For example, starting a campsite may not be the best option for you if your farm does not have good access or you are not keen on having lots of visitors coming and going.”

Change can be challenging but it also presents new opportunities, she concludes: “It may mean you are stretched out of your comfort zone, but in the long term it is likely to make your business more resilient and prepared to meet future challenges.”


About Gemma Sparks

Gemma Sparks MRICS FAAV graduated from the Royal Agricultural University with a degree in Rural Land Management. She qualified with the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors and the Central Association of Agricultural Valuers in 2011.

Following several years’ experience working with land agent firms and taking part in the Future Farm Resilience Programme, Gemma set up Blackdown Consulting to offer rural services to local businesses with a personal touch. She advises on a range of topics from payment schemes and rural grants, to planning and diversification projects, of which she has lots of experience. Gemma lives with her husband and children on their farm in the Blackdown Hills and is also a partner in a diversified farm business based in the Scottish borders.


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Future Farming

Farmers are currently seeing the biggest changes in agriculture for more than 50 years. As a mutual insurer, we’ve stood by South West farmers since 1903 and through our Future Farming Programme, we are helping our Members and the wider farming community navigate the changes ahead in this transformative time.

Future Farming Programme