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Rural Economy

Business Case Studies

Report Segment: Suffolk Food Hall

Suffolk Food Hall

Oliver Paul from Suffolk Hall was interviewed as part of the tourism report in this series. Oliver’s business is an excellent example of land based business diversification. The Paul family now have a portfolio of businesses ranging from farming, commercial property and retail to tourist accommodation and leisure activities. It has all been about managing risk – “under-utilised assets need to be resource efficient”, says Oliver Paul.

Winner of the BALE (Best Alternative Land Enterprise ) Award for Diversification in 2009 and a finalist in the Farmers Weekly Farm Diversification of the Year in 2011, the Paul family are trend setters in East Anglia, showing how profitable farming can be combined with other activities to bring about better resource utilisation and a greater spread of income streams to protect against single sector economic exposure.

Oliver Paul believes the future success of the rural economy lies in the proliferation of SMEs and that this is where policy intervention should be most focused.

Over the last 20 years employment on farms has significantly declined – a 2000 acre farm for example might have employed 15 labourers whereas now that land will require just one skilled worker. At the same time global crop yields have grown substantially (by 115% between 1967 and 2007 according to the Beddington Report - Future-of-Food-and-Farming 2011). Diversification is not just about increasing profits and managing risk; it is also an excellent way of creating employment. New Suffolk Food Hall employs 55 people – significantly more than are employed on the family farm.

And whilst the farm worker needs to be highly skilled these skills are unlikely to be sourced from the local college. Much more likely will be a combine harvester manufacturer providing direct training on the complex machinery. In the Food Hall however, there are plenty of opportunities for college involvement – with a range of traditional food skills required including bakery, fishmongery and butchery.