Farms have to work hard these days to stay afloat, as all farmers and food producers will know. Working out how to diversify farm income streams and understanding why British farmers are diversifying is crucial to sustainability and long-term survival. Commercial polytunnels can help farmers to bring in that little extra money, and find new arrows to add to their business quivers.
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Why it is Important to Diversify Farm Income Streams
It is important to diversify farm income streams for two main reasons. For one thing, having more than one income stream on your property means avoiding putting all your eggs in one basket.
For a second thing, having diverse farm income streams can mean finding interesting new synergies between different areas of your farm enterprise, reducing the fragility of farm systems overall.
Diversity is important in all areas on a farm, when it comes to planting, operation, and revenue sources. The more diverse a system, the less likely it is that when one thing does not go according to plan, the whole farm will be lost.
There is a lot of vulnerability and risk in farming at the best of times. So the more you can diversify and spread that risk, the more likely it is that at least one area will be successful in bringing in an income for your farm, no matter what the future may bring.
Also, the more diverse a system, the more beneficial interactions between different elements. The more beneficial interactions there are between elements in a system, the more stable and resilient that system will be.
By introducing more income sources therefore diversify farm income streams your business, you can find interesting new ways to make the whole farm work together like the diverse ecological systems that should be thriving on your land.
Check out some other ways on how to develop your polytunnel profits further.
How a Polytunnel Can Help Diversify Income Streams
A polytunnel can help farmers to branch out and more so diversify farm income streams. Often, domestic polytunnels will be used to grow food, or course. But these useful and affordable structures can also be used in a wide range of other ways.
Below are some suggestions to help you understand how a polytunnel could come in handy and how you might use one or more polytunnels to diversify farm income streams.
1. Boosting Food Production
A polytunnel that is used to grow food can boost production by:
- Increasing the length of the growing season.
- Increasing the range of crops that can be grown.
- Providing an ideal environment to grow speciality, high-value crops.
- Providing space for some (or different) livestock for some or all of the year.
By increasing the length of the primary growing season and potentially making it possible to grow food inside it all year round, a polytunnel can help you to branch out into producing food during different seasons than you have ever done before, therefore aiding to diversify farm income streams.
You might be able to set up a veg box scheme or something similar even during the ‘off’ season. Or sell produce to local restaurants or cafes. Or even sell direct to your customers on farm, or in another way. There are numerous ways to branch out and find different ways of selling the additional food that you grow on your farm when you are growing year-round in a polytunnel.
A polytunnel can also allow you to diversify into different areas of food production. It can let you focus on any number of new and interesting crops that you have not ever grown on your farm before. And to obtain higher yields of those new plants due to the protected growing environment.
You won’t be as tied to the vagaries of the British weather and can therefore consider crops that would be difficult or even impossible to grow outdoors.
Polytunnel growers will soon discover that they can grow many crops that they have no real chance of growing successfully outdoors.
There are many high-value crops that you might consider specialising in as a polytunnel farmer, once you have researched which crops might provide the best return on investment in your particular area. Growing subtropical and even tropical species might be possible with the right polytunnel setup and many global species might successfully be grown.
2. Allowing for More Plant Propagation
As well as growing numerous plant species as crops for their edible yields, farmers might also branch out into propagating and selling plants themselves.
A polytunnel could potentially be used to create a new plant nursery on your property where you can sow and grow a range of plants, not just food producing crops, for sale. And where you can also propagate plants through other means, including propagating through cuttings, layering, division etc…
Diversify farm income streams by producing plants for sale through various methods of propagation and you can explore a range of potential sales avenues for those plants.
Depending on what you grow, you might focus on sale of plants to home growers, or to other farmers, or potentially even to those working on conservation, restoration or rewilding schemes, if you focus on the propagation of native plant species.
With a polytunnel to provide a protected area, your plant propagation efforts will be a lot easier and more likely to meet with enough success to be a commercially viable venture.
3. Providing Space for Farm Retail
Another interesting thing to think about is that a polytunnel does not necessarily have to be used to grow in. It could also become a useful space that can be used in a wide range of other ways. One example is that a polytunnel could very usefully become a space in which you can sell the produce grown or produced elsewhere on your farm.
A polytunnel could become a farm shop, where you can sell fresh farm produce, plants, and/or products that you have branched out into making elsewhere on the property, such as jams, chutneys or other preserves made in a commercial kitchen… fruit juices or alcoholic beverages… dried herbs or herbal teas… etc…
Even if you do not use the polytunnel as the actual farm shop, the space could be very useful to you in processing the food or other crops that you grow. It could be a very practical addition to help streamline new farm processes and make them go more smoothly.
With a shade cover, a polytunnel can potentially also be important storage space for a farm retail business or another new project on a farm. This could be a practical necessity for this type of farm business and help such a business to diversify what is on sale and to expand, perhaps even with an online component.
4. Becoming a Venue for Agritourism Activities
Another wonderful way to use a polytunnel to diversify farm income streams is to use the space as a venue to welcome visitors onto your farm. Agritourism is on the rise and many city-dwellers in particular are very keen to have a day out on a farm, exploring how their food is grown and seeing daily farming practices.
Visitors might be welcomed into a polytunnel for a range of different reasons during farm visits. For example, you might create a tour that allows visitors to venture into producing polytunnel spaces.
You might also have a polytunnel laid out with space for classroom lessons and workshop demonstrations, as a space where people can learn more about, for example, sustainable organic farming practices.
A polytunnel could also potentially be used as a space for kids to play on the farm. Or as a space where they can be introduced to and can pet various animals.
It could also become a picnicking area for your guests, or even a cafe or restaurant area where you can serve people at tables on the food grown on your farm.
5. As a Venue for Weddings and Other Special Events
Branching out into weddings and events is another way that farmers can make money on their land. Beautiful farms can often be popular venues for peoples’ big days and other special events.
Polytunnels can be a viable alternative for those who are interested in hiring a barn space for their big day, and can be kitted out inside beautifully with lots of flowers and foliage and other décor.
The polytunnel can be the venue where a couple actually gets hitched, or a place where they can have their reception or a bar or dance floor for an outdoors reception perhaps… the options are almost endless for farmers to get creative and create unique wedding venues that brides and grooms of all ages and sorts are sure to love.
Polytunnels could also be used for a wide range of other personal and corporate events. With the right eye and a big of magic, a simple polytunnel can become an incredibly useful and versatile space that can be the venue to diversify farm income streams.
Best Profitable Crops for a Polytunnel
In order to make the most to diversify farm income streams, you consider growing some of these organic materials in a polytunnel which are bound to get the money rolling in, and what you can grow in a polytunnel in a year.
- Leafy greens:
- Leafy greens, such as salad types and lettuces, are highly sought after due to their health benefits and versatility.
- Growing leafy greens is relatively easy, and they can be combined with ornamental plants.
- Polytunnel-grown vegetables like lettuce have the potential to generate up to £20 in profit per square foot annually.
- Bamboo is a profitable crop that grows rapidly, with a growth rate of up to 2 feet per day.
- It is adaptable to various environments, making it suitable for both hot and cold climates.
- The price of bamboo can reach up to £200 per plant, offering a lucrative income opportunity.
- Herbs have a strong market demand in the UK and require minimal attention and space.
- Growing herbs in a polytunnel allows for higher profitability per square foot.
- Various herb options, such as chives, basil, oregano, and cilantro, provide flexibility and choice for growers.
- Tomatoes are a versatile crop in high demand throughout the year, making them a reliable choice for diversification.
- They can be grown in various conditions and can be combined with other crops like bell peppers and chillies.
- Certain tomato varieties, such as Heirlooms, can yield high profits, with the potential to earn up to £20 per square foot annually.
- Ginseng is a highly profitable crop with a long maturity period of up to 6 years.
- Patience is required for ginseng cultivation, as the roots need time to mature before harvest.
- Selling ginseng before maturity, preferably in a rootless state, can attract buyers.
- The seeds, rootless plants, and mature roots of ginseng can generate up to £100,000 per half-acre.
Lastly, if you want to make your garden or farm more private, read more on how to build a garden wall,
How can polytunnels help diversify farming income?
Polytunnels offer opportunities to grow a wide range of crops, including specialty or high-value crops, which can fetch higher prices in the market. By diversifying the crops grown, farmers can tap into niche markets, meet consumer demands, and potentially increase profits.
What types of crops can be grown in polytunnels?
Polytunnels allow for the cultivation of various crops, including vegetables, herbs, fruits, flowers, and even specialty crops like mushrooms. The choice of crops depends on market demand, local growing conditions, and the farmer’s preferences and expertise.
Can I grow crops out of season with polytunnels?
Yes, polytunnels create a controlled microclimate that extends the growing season. They protect crops from frost, wind, and excessive rain, allowing farmers to cultivate crops during colder months or in regions with shorter growing seasons.
How can I choose the right crops for polytunnel cultivation?
Consider factors such as market demand, local growing conditions, crop profitability, and your own knowledge and experience. Conduct market research to identify crops with high demand or niche market opportunities. Additionally, assess the suitability of crops for polytunnel cultivation in terms of space requirements, growth habits, and crop compatibility.
Countryfile. (2019) How Bristish Farmers are Diversifying. Countryfile. [online] Available at: https://www.countryfile.com/how-to/outdoor-skills/how-britains-farmers-are-diversifying/ [accessed 05/09/23]
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.
To get in touch, visit https://ewspconsultancy.com.