Farm diversification in Forth Valley & Lomond

Mr & Mrs Hamilton outside one of the kotas
Mrs Hamilton

Mrs Hamilton from Wester Third Farm in Gartmore tells us about their farm diversification project, which received funding from Forth Valley & Lomond LEADER.

Who are we and what type of farm have we traditionally run?

We are a small, family run, dairy and beef farm set within Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. My husband, John, is the farm manager and he shares a business partnership with his mum, Christine. I am a part-time secondary maths teacher, farm support to John and we have a fantastic little boy together.

What is our diversification project?

We propose to invest in a farm diversification project that:

  • captures the beautiful qualities of the environment we live in

  • is unique

  • competes in price with the glamping market & matches the standards set in a lodge

  • exceeds the amenity in both industries

  • supports tourism whatever the weather

  • provides consumers with a high-quality experience at highly competitive rates

Rationale for diversification

Our farm is a dairy and beef farm that underwent significant investment in 2013 to upgrade to a fully automated robotic milking system. Whilst this helped the business to become more efficient in a competitive and global market, the dairy industry could not have predicted the fall in milk price that would follow. Prices fell to historically low levels and media were reporting the closure of “as many as one in five dairy farms across the UK” (Telegraph/business, 21 Feb. 2016). Our business worked hard to manage increasing costs and hedge against this loss. It was this journey, coupled with the sad and sudden loss of a dear family member and active business partner, which has motivated us to consider new ways of becoming a stronger and more robust business.              

To date, thankfully, milk prices have shown signs of recovery and farm subsidies previously received through the EU have been guaranteed by the UK government until 2020. In addition, securing contractors, on a part-time basis, has already helped to provide stability and enable the business to move forward.

Careful future planning will be needed as we know milk prices will rise/fall again and EU subsidies will cease to exist in their current form after 2020. Our business is heavily weighted towards dairy and as such is highly exposed to market fluctuations. Therefore, using finance to create a steady income, rather than cushion temporary losses, would make a more profitable, sustainable and stable business for the future; something we would want our young family to benefit from and have the opportunity to continue to invest in. We are a family business and by its very nature, we are committed to maintaining our beautiful landscape whilst finding opportunities to diversify and create space for pleasure, visitor experience and support to our local economy.

How did we decide on our idea?

As a town girl marrying a farmer, I learned quickly about the realities of farming life - a romantic dinner for two and the phone rings to say there’s sheep on the road; a dreich day predicted means a chance day out but wait, great news, the sun shines, quick! Let’s get back home, we can start the silage! Whilst wife starts the mad dash to find food for ten hungry men for the next three days, swapping her heels for the wellies! Sometimes it felt like we couldn’t manage a life for always being on call and on the rare occasions we could be spontaneous, the wind and rain would most likely be horizontal and a car picnic called for.

Finding a BBQ hut at the Highland Show made our hearts glow - it was fun, quirky and a sociable, happy, cosy and inviting place to be. Our first BBQ in the snow with sixteen friends made us feel like we could dance in the rain. Our friends share with their friends and family, our BBQ nights with laughter and delight and the all-weather novelty, especially in the winter!

Farming is so isolated and such a unique way of life, we knew the only way to grow and become more efficient was to reach out beyond farming. Like a good recipe, we pulled together all our finest ingredients and mixed them with the best of our knowledge and experience. Living in the most beautiful setting, we had captured something good and we wanted to take it further and share.

Finding a Twin Kota opened a world of ideas and opportunities. Without a doubt our ideas have grown far beyond our initial thinking but this has happened for all the right reasons and the LEADER grant process helped us to process this journey and make well-informed choices along the way. We are proud to be Scottish, love the countryside and delight in encouraging visitors to join us in one of our greatest national assets - Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park.

Watch these two short videos from Forth Valley & Lomond LEADER to find out more about the inspiration behind the project and the LEADER process.