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Wedding venture adds sparkle to arable business

Published: 14 February 2019

How do you future-proof your farm without the risks and hassle that over-diversification can bring? Rhodri and Gaynor Davies run six limited companies based around their 350-acre arable farm but still manage to sleep at night, while also enjoying their days.

When Gaynor and Rhodri Davies met and married in the early 1990s, they shared a determination to do farming differently. Though both were from a dairy background, they couldn’t see a future in the industry.

“We valued our milk quotas and looked around for another farm we could buy with that value,” explains Rhodri. It meant a move from west Wales to Rosedew Farm near Llantwit Major in the Vale of Glamorgan, and a completely fresh start in farming.

By the year 2000, they had built a farmhouse, were renting more farms and had invested in machinery to increase their arable crops. They had also added sheep, store cattle, sucklers and contracting to the business.

“I think our motivation has always been to have as many strings to our bow as possible,” says Rhodri. “Although the arable farm is very successful, we still couldn’t see that sustaining our future or that of our children.”

Realising potential

“We borrowed from AMC to convert redundant outbuildings into five holiday cottages, sleeping up to 20 between them. It was a decision made simpler by the fact the buildings were in need of repair anyway,” adds Rhodri.

Just as the cottages were being finished, they got a booking for all five from a couple who wanted to hold their wedding at the farm.

Rhodri and Gaynor immediately saw an opportunity. They took out another AMC loan to convert an unused barn into a wedding venue and build six log cabins where derelict farm buildings had stood. They created a package that means a couple can invite friends and family to stay, making their event a reunion as well as a union.

Although the family has never advertised, the hall is booked every weekend. The best part? Rhodri and Gaynor have designed their diversification to minimise the work involved. They rent out an empty hall, albeit one equipped with a professional kitchen, and the bride and groom organise their own decoration and catering. Between weddings, the cottages and cabins are available to rent for short breaks.

Never say never

The couple have also taken on a camping site and butchery enterprise. “With all our diversification projects, it’s been important to get the right people in,” says Rhodri. “A husband and wife run the caravan site for us and they also help out with other parts of the business. They’re part of the team.

“The good relationship we have with AMC is also important because we get help in keeping on top of the separate businesses, cash flow and spending.”

Meanwhile, the arable farm – with 1,500 acres under crop – is as busy as ever. Dafi, Rhodri and Gaynor’s son, now works on the farm, growing more valuable crops that, while riskier, bring better returns.

Reinvesting profits

While the family seems never to be daunted by a new business opportunity or challenge, they also know when to step back. After considering building a solar park, they realised the commitment would have meant a £4m build. Instead, they put their efforts into getting planning permission and sold the project to a developer for £1.6m.That money is being used to finance the restoration of a burnt-out manor house, bought in 2015 with an AMC mortgage. The result will be an eight-bedroom hotel and five residential barn conversions.

“Every project that I‘ve looked at with the family has been well thought out, extensively researched and costed by them,” says Martin Waite, AMC Regional Agriculture Manager. “Once they start a project, they don’t cut corners, so we always have confidence in their success.”

Little wonder that the couple are in the running for a Countryside Alliance ‘rural Oscar’. They were nominated by Vale MP Alun Cairns in light of their achievement in developing the business, despite the challenges facing farmers.

Diversification: Shop success

Keeping management as simple as possible has given Rhodri and Gaynor space to take on new opportunities too. In 2015, without knowing anything about the camping business, they bought a neighbouring caravan site with an AMC loan. They now have glamping tents, statics and pitches for tourers. They opened a small café on the site last year.

The couple have also taken on a butchery enterprise, run by their daughter Delana. “Back in 2012, the only butcher in the village had decided to retire, at the age of 71. He’d run the shop since leaving school,” explains Rhodri.

“It was a poky little shop in the wrong part of town and no-one wanted to take it on. He was really happy to sell me the lease for not very much so that the shop would continue. We now have a shop in Cardiff as well, and turned over £1.6m last year. Again, it’s down to having good, motivated staff.”

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Key learnings from Rosedew Farm

  • Don’t overcommit. Be realistic about the income you can expect from your projects and don’t be tempted to rely on wishful thinking.
  • Diversify into something you enjoy. It’s good to have your eggs in more than one basket, but it’s more difficult to manage multiple businesses if you don’t get pleasure out of them.
  • Choose your people carefully. You need people you can trust and count on, or you’ll end up doing everything yourself. Whether it’s staff or family members, you need to motivate them to feel a valued part of the team.

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