New products

By Katie Thear

Small farmers are better suited to relationship marketing than are larger farms, whose sheer size requires selling food in an impersonal marketing system.
(Small Farm Digest, U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2001)

Agricultural pollution, BSE, Foot and Mouth disease and changing consumer attitudes have all damaged the agricultural sector in the UK, but the dangers associated with intensive practices, coupled with the growing demand for wholesome, humanely produced food, were also ignored for decades.

It is no coincidence that now, the only sector of British agriculture that is growing in success, is the smallholding or diversified farming sector. These are the people who are producing what people want within their own communities.

Organic enterprises, and those supplying local farmer’s markets or providing local services, are by their very nature, small-scale. They are also operating without the subsidies that the industry had come to expect as its right. A transformation is currently taking place in the countryside, and financial handouts are becoming more rare. Rural enterprises have to stand or fall on their own feet. But what is a rural enterprise?

Rural Enterprise

A rural enterprise is quite simply any commercial activity that is taking place in the countryside. It may, or may not, be connected with agriculture, depending upon the individual situation. The activity may be part-time for one or two people, or full-time for one partner and part-time for the other. Whatever it is, it needs to begin with an assessment of demand for the product or service, with customer consideration being placed at the forefront.

Planning Permission

In Britain, if it is intended to use an existing building for a new, commercial activity, it may be necessary to obtain ‘change of use’ permission from the local authority. If a completely new building is required for a business, the local authority must again be approached, this time for actual planning permission, rather than just change of use permission.

This is sometimes more difficult to achieve, particularly if an area is designated as a conservation area. Only individual local authorities are in a position to give specific advice on this. If permission is given for the erection of a new building, it is still necessary to acquire ‘building permission’. The latter is to ensure that minimum building safety standards are adhered to.

Commercial Rates

Once local authority permission is obtained, a commercial rate will be levied on the premises. It is worth remembering that, although costs of lighting, heating, equipping and maintaining business premises can be offset against tax, it may be necessary to pay capital gains tax in the event of the site being sold. An accountant will advise on this question as well as on any other problem that may arise with a home business.