Science - October 11, 2010

Growth in care-giving and retailing in farms

Farmers are earning more income from care-giving, childcare, nature management, recreation and shop sales on their farms. The turnover of these activities grew by 28 percent between 2007 and 2009. 'Gone are the times when multifunctional agriculture was an escape route.'

The turnover of ancillary activities on the farm rose in two years' time from 322 to 411 million euros. More than a hundred care farms were set up, accounting for the growth from 45 to 63 million euros. The number of farm stores grew from 1,100 to 1,400; their turnover rose from 70 to 93 million euros. There was an upsurge of childcare on the farm, a lucrative business with a turnover increase from 4 to 14 million euros. Nature management was the only area where turnover decreased: from 90 to 79 million euros. Recreation facilities chalked up the most money for farmers: 92 million euros in 2007 and 120 million euros in 2009.
While such indigenous farm use soared, the turnover of the total agriculture sector dropped in these years by 3.4 percent. Despite this, the contribution of multifunctional agriculture remained small: a mere 1.8 percent of the total agriculture turnover.
More than a million
Yet, multifunctional agriculture is making its impact felt at the company level, says LEI researcher Aïde Roest, co-author of a report on prospects of multifunctional agriculture. 'One eighth or 9,300 companies are involved in multifunctional agriculture. At the company level, it can become a very big source of income. For example, the 65 companies with childcare activities have high turnovers and some farm stores are doing very well. There are multifunctional companies with more than a million euros turnover each year.'
It is clear that the farm store and bed & breakfast are no longer getaways for companies which cannot make it to the international market. 'Big viable companies in fact invest in multifunctional activities', says Roest. For example, growth in care-giving takes place in farms with more than a hundred dairy cows. 'The real entrepreneurs are making the money, for example, by finding better sales channels for their products and by shortening the production chain. Gone are the times when multifunctional agriculture was an escape route.'
Three activities
The Rural Sociology Group of Wageningen University has carried out a survey among multifunctional farmers. 'These have at least three activities other than agriculture, and keep investing in every activity', says sociologist Henk Oostindie. 'For example, they combine nature management with care-giving and farm retail.' This extension accounts for forty percent of the income per company, as shown by the survey. The research work done by Roest and Oostindie was commissioned by the Multifunctional Agriculture Taskforce set up by the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality.'
Playing with animals
Evelien Blaauwendraat and her partner Willem have been running a childcare day centre since 2006 on their farm in Renswoude for children from ten months to four years old.
'Childcare has become our chief source of income.
It is in fact a stable form of income, provided that the occupancy rate is good. We've managed that from the start because we offer more than the usual childcare facilities, which is space, tranquillity and a chance to play with the animals. The parents are very diverse, from rich to poor. Some of them have to really drive some distance to come here.'
Blaauwendraat was faced with a major consideration as income from farming fluctuated quite a bit. 'Moreover, my father passed away and we stopped the dairy business. The childcare centre is housed in the old freestall cow shed where the cows were kept in the past. The only other activity we still have is pig farming, but this does not earn us enough for a livelihood.