Never thought I’d compare the oil industry to farming…

I nipped down to Forfar last month to meet the lovely Louise Nicoll of Newton Farm Holidays. Instantly I was overwhelmed by her enthusiasm and insane ability to multi-task about 3 million jobs at once!

She gave me a snapshot at the last 15 years of her life; explaining how she’d gone from medical sales to a full time mother of twins and farmwife extrodainaire.  Similar to myself, Louise loved being a mum but strived for other ways to contribute to the family and farm. One night her mum volunteered her for some B&B services, when she heard of some visitors to the area being let down at the last minute.

Louise, having realised this was the perfect way to balance looking after the kids as well as providing some income for the farm, launched her own farmhouse B&B in 2006. Not wanting to provide it half heartedly, she has worked tirelessly over the past few years building on the quality to now achieve a 4* Visit Scotland standard, and welcomes visitors from across the Globe.

Over the years, Louise has been struck by how many visitors are surprised that they are actually a working farm so her husband (Graeme) and her have reveled in sharing stories round the breakfast table, offering a tour if requested. 

Like many businesses out there, it took them a number of years of sharing their tales, until they realised how much it was actually costing them. As many of you know time is money, but sometimes it’s very difficult to see how much its actually costing you, as its often hidden in situations where you are naturally wanting to help your customers.

An hour or two showing B&B guests round the farm, was enjoyable and added value hugely to the overall visitor experience, but it was cutting into family time and actual farming activities.  Keen to try and recoup some of her costs, Louise started to charge a small amount for their tours. Nervous about how guests would react she built into the experience, reflecting the true dairy farm roots by including a demonstration on butter making. Her son was also quick to showcase his traditional wood turning skills, with products quickly snapped up as souvenirs.

Initially launching her tours with B&B guests, Louise is soon to build on their success by opening up the opportunity to the general public, including a post-tour refreshment in the original milkhouse.

Having spent a wonderful afternoon at Newton Farm Holidays, I was blown away by the experience and am excited for the opportunities that lay afoot for Louise and her family. I didn’t have time to go and look around the house they offer up for self catering, but I’m reassured it is of similar décor and taste to her own house, which would provide the perfect country escape. She is exploring a new venture at the moment which would be very exciting not only for Newton Farm, but also for the whole of Angus as she sets to give a unique edge to accommodation provision ahead of the Dundee V&A opening.

Defra figures released in January 2016, forecast that farming business incomes for 2015/16 are set to decline by nearly 50% in some sectors due to lower prices being driven across UK for commodities. Twinned with changes to subsidy payments, this report does not paint a pretty landscape for the future. Farms are therefore being urged to think more like a business and consider how else they could use existing resources to create income. #farmdiversification.

Angus has 40% of the class A agricultural land in Scotland, whatever their produce; soft fruit, cereal, vegetables or beef to name a few the opportunity to diversify their farm is at their fingertips. Open Farm Sunday held a few weeks ago, was organised by LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming) and is a fantastic example of the industry raising awareness, and building revenue opportunities through collaboration. #ofs2016

Collaboration and diversification is key to building a successful future in a slowing market. There’s not many times that I would consider comparing the oil industry to farming, but perhaps they could take a few tips from another industry facing a certain downturn…