In April 1984, milk quotas limited how much a farmer could produce. This prompted us to start diversifying. 35 years on, our family dairy farm is home to our lovely farm shop, and 2020 will see the opening of a new caravan and campsite on the farm. So, what exactly does diversification mean here at Low Sizergh Farm?
Looking back, there are three principles that shaped the course of our diversifications: not losing sight of the core enterprise (the dairy farm), developing diversifications that can stand on their own merits, and growing a business with what is available.
We’ve always responded to the market. Customers of the pick your own asked for ready-picked strawberries, for cream and ice cream, for refreshments, and toilets. So, we looked at the Westmorland stone barn, which was attached to the farmhouse.
The late 17th-century building had evolved into a store for essential items that would ‘definitely come in handy one day’ (farmers will be familiar with this necessity). It was redundant for modern agricultural purposes though it had stored hay, and over-wintered the herd of 24 cows plus young stock until the 1950s. It was the ideal location for a farm shop.
The A591 road has been a great feature. Low Sizergh is on the main arterial route between the M6 and the Lake District. While the road having split the land in two took some getting used to, once diversification became a requirement the people driving those cars looked like a good market to reach.
Our aim was always to have a shop on the farm rather than the farm be incidental. We wanted to have products from the farm (since we started with strawberries). But we knew we didn’t have the skills or inclination for cheese making or ice cream making. Fortuitously, a local ice cream maker, Windermere Ice cream, and Lancashire cheesemaker, Chris Sandham, took our milk and turned it into dairy products that our customers have enjoyed over many years. The premium price received for the small amount of milk sold directly to local companies made a difference.
We all agree that knowledge sharing and a common farming mentality have been essential throughout the highs and lows of our farm diversification endeavours. Farmers are practical people and if there’s a problem, we find a way to fix it. That applies to machines, animals, humans and business.
Our later farm diversifications, selling raw milk direct from a vending machine opposite the milking parlour, and the investment in the caravan and campsite, have not had the same external input but family skills and interests have come into play.
In fact, family interests have been a consistent, central theme. From early entrepreneurial activities, through to the work of the following generations, there’s been a belief that it has to be right for us, the people involved, the way we want to do business, and the ecological factors, which will always be the foundation of our decisions.
Our future plans include energy generation, carbon sequestration, keeping existing facilities updated, and concentrating on expeditious growing. All of the developments on the farm have, and will continue to be, connected to our role as food producers, local food suppliers, and custodians of the land we farm.