Chair of Yorkshire Rural Support Network urges businesses to "sit tight" and look to the future with optimism

Farming families working hard to protect their livelihoods amid the ongoing virus pandemic can look to the future with optimism, according to the Yorkshire Rural Support Network.

Christine Ryder who runs holiday accommodation and farm stays.

The current pandemic is bringing new challenges to many farming businesses which have diversified to bring in new income streams.

Diversification expanded rapidly following the outbreak of Foot and Mouth disease which decimated farm incomes at the start of the last decade.

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Those ventures have added value and have gone some way towards balancing risk, but a great number of these projects are now facing fresh strain as we adapt to the loss of markets the lockdown is bringing.

The tourism sector is one of those being hardest hit with a number of farms branching out into holiday homes and offering ‘lambing stays’.

These businesses have seen their bookings cancelled at the start of the traditionally busy spring season but chair of the Yorkshire Rural Support Network, Christine Ryder, is advising people to “sit tight”. “To anyone in farming across Yorkshire who has diversified into tourism, my advice would be to sit tight.”

Yorkshire Rural Support Network is a partnership of agencies brought together by the Yorkshire Agricultural Society to promote and provide help to those who live in rural communities.

Mrs Ryder runs bed and breakfast accommodation at Scaife Hall Farm in Blubberhouses near Harrogate, where she farms with her husband Chris. She accepts that everyone’s situation will be different but believes there is hope for farms that draw income from tourism amid the current storm.

Mrs Ryder said: “My advice would be to batten down the hatches to reduce your business costs as best you can because when all this is over, people will come back and holiday in the countryside, they will be desperate to take in the fresh air, wide open spaces and beautiful scenery.

“What gives me great hope for the future is that when we reopened after Foot and Mouth forced our B&B to close, bookings really took off in the following year. It is difficult to foresee exactly what will happen when social restrictions are lifted, but there may be some uncertainty about travelling abroad and so more people might choose to holiday in the UK.”

The Yorkshire Rural Support Network is a partnership of agencies brought together by the Yorkshire Agricultural Society to promote and provide help to those who live in rural communities.

The society, which supports and promotes Yorkshire farmers and farming, launched its new Farm to Fork social media campaign last week with the aim of celebrating the hard work of farmers and farm retailers at a time when access to reliable supplies of food is a key concern.

Mrs Ryder was one of those featured over the course of the week, along with the Fort family who run a dairy farm in Silsden.

Nidderdale-based Mrs Ryder, who also produces quality lamb and beef for local independent butchers, emphasised the need for maintaining good communication among the farming community, saying it was “hugely important” at this time of increased social isolation.

“It’s so important to keep talking, even though we can’t see our friends. Social isolation is a worry and has been for a long time in rural areas.

“If anyone is concerned about a neighbour or a friend, give them a call. Social media, too, is a great way of sharing concerns with each other and also positive messages of support for one another.”

While the situation is proving challenging there have also been many businesses which have shown their enterprising spirit. Farm shops have been quick to adapt their businesses quickly to social distancing rules.

Contactless drive-thrus have been developed by sites such as Blacker Farm in Wakefield and Bert’s Barrow in Leeds with partnerships, home deliveries and online orders helping maintain vital incomes for farming families and their teams of workers. It is also giving customers vital access to quality local food as an alternative to supermarkets.

The Farm To Fork campaign sets out to publicly acknowledge farmers’ invaluable work across Yorkshire and to demonstrate this is appreciated during the busy spring season.

Nigel Pulling, chief executive of the Yorkshire Agricultural Society, said: “Our farmers are working tirelessly to produce quality, nutritious food and we want to show our support for their hard graft, which continues despite the disruption to all our lives as a consequence of Covid-19.

“Many farming families are juggling extra responsibilities of home-schooling whilst running businesses, and they share the same anxieties we all do for the health of loved ones.”

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