Winners Follow-up: Sam, Jo and Barbara Smith, 2019 Diversification Innovator of the Year – Small to medium

Securing the future of the family farm was the driving force behind establishing new enterprises for the Smith family, winners of the Diversification Innovator of the Year 2019 small to medium category.

These are challenging times for many farm diversification businesses, particularly if involved in the hospitality sector and the Smith family, are no exception.

Barbara Smith, who runs the business with her daughters, Sam and Jo, is thankful there are a variety of business models to negate full disruption to the farm.

Barbara says: “It is a very difficult time for everyone, but fortunately there are different strands to the business.

“The accommodation and events business has been halted completely by the coronavirus pandemic, but we are monitoring the situation and making plans as to how we might operate in the future as lockdown eases.

“At the moment, our storage compound for leisure vehicles is largely unaffected, but there may be implications for this in the future if there is a severe economic downturn.”

“Not having all our eggs in one basket may prove a blessing, the farm gave us a platform on which to build the diversification projects.

“We hope now the farm’s income will hold steady, although, we could do with a supportive Government to negotiate fair trade and Brexit deals to get us through
these unknown times.”

The business is based at Slapton Manor on the edge of the hamlet of Slapton in south Northamptonshire, where Barbara’s family have farmed since 1924.

Originally, a beef, sheep and dairy enterprise, the dairy cows had taken centre stage by the mid 1990s with numbers up to 230 and an investment in a new dairy unit.

Sadly, a combination of poor milk prices, a continual requirement of huge ongoing investment to be compliant with ever-changing legislation and the onset of Bluetongue prompted an exit from dairy in 2013.

This left a core farming business of 120 pedigree Texel ewes, 200 commercial ewes and an arable enterprise.


Over the years against this backdrop Barbara was becoming increasingly worried about relying solely on agriculture for income, particularly as she wanted to give her daughters the opportunity to return home if they wished.

Barbara says: “As far back as 2001 it was clear to us I had to find other employment or better utilise the assets of the farm and this was when I first ventured into diversification.

“I needed to develop secure income streams which were not subsidy dependent, making use of our skills, our property, and our location.

“Fortunately, Slapton Manor had an extensive range of traditional buildings which included a listed threshing barn. In 2001, after foot-and-mouth, we were able to take advantage of a redundant farm buildings grant and converted buildings adjacent to the house into three bed and breakfast units with part of the house used for breakfasts.”

Encouraged by occupancy rates, some old pens and the original cow shed were made into three more rooms giving a portfolio of eight dwellings in total. By 2017, both daughters had returned home to help drive forward the farm and diversification projects.

Jo had graduated in agriculture at Harper Adams and also gained huge experience while working at Abbott Lodge Farm, near Penrith, Cumbria. Sam, meanwhile, graduated in events and hospitality management and also worked through the ranks to events and reservations manager at Whittlebury Hall Hotel and Spa.

The next stage of development was to reinstate an enclosure of traditional buildings which had formed a foldyard as well as enhance the setting of the listed buildings to provide a further six rooms.

“Our aim is to provide comfortable accommodation while retaining the character and charm of the original farm buildings and compliment the setting,” says Barbara.

“We hope we have achieved this in a sustainable way by incorporating solar and biomass heating.”

The farm is close to many visitor attractions including Silverstone and there has been a lot of development in the area overall.

“During the week we cater mainly for business people and have a lot of repeat customers.

“As the accommodation studios each have individual entrances, are all self-contained with en suite and kitchen facilities, we are hoping when the restrictions start to ease this will enable us to attract ‘safe’ business again.”

Occasional events had been hosted at the farm for some time but when Sam returned home it became obvious to expand this side of the business.

Now events can either be held in the threshing barn, a traditional poled marquee which can hold 300 guests or the new smaller function room.


In 2017 a civil ceremony licence was obtained, but couples also have the option of the religious ceremony at the church which is next to the farm.

Barbara says: “Our market is bespoke weddings, personal to each couple as well as other parties and corporate entertainment.

“A major attraction is the onsite accommodation but our events also provide revenue for other local businesses which provide services such

“I needed to develop secure income streams which were not subsidy dependent, making use of our skills, our property, and our location”

as additional accommodation, taxis, hairdressing, florists to name just a few.”

Sam generally manages the marketing, booking arrangements and co-ordinates the event on the day while Jo takes care of the grounds and outdoor space preparation, in conjunction with running the sheep enterprise.

But in the run up to and during events it is all hands to the pump, a case of everyone getting involved with whatever needs doing.

Food is usually provided by outside caterers but the family supply beverages and run the bar.

Barbara says: “All the weddings booked for this year have been postponed to 2021. So next year looks as though it will be particularly busy for weddings, restrictions permitting.”

In order to develop a number of income streams and utilise the farm’s assets, planning consent was obtained to create a secure, surfaced storage compound for 50 leisure vehicles in 2013. As this was so successful, in 2016 space for an additional 50 vehicles was created.

The compound has a secure electric gate and owners let themselves in and out on a fob system. Entry is automatically recorded and surveillance cameras are connected to all of the family’s mobile phones.

“The compound was planned with simplicity in mind and has been a great success.

“The main advantage is that it requires very little management time and has no impact on the farming business.”

Farming remains at the heart of the business and the diversification theme has also been applied to the sheep flock as Barbara explains.

“In 2013 we were approached by Innovis to be a multiplier for a new breed called Abermax.

“For some years we had been breeding pedigree Texel rams and had a surplus of high-quality pedigree ewes. We also had the necessary recording equipment and expertise needed to collect the data required by the company.”

The arrangement involves Innovis putting high performance Charollais rams on the Smith’s surplus Texel ewes. The resulting lambs are fully recorded for ease of lambing and vigor traits at birth, weighted at eight and 16 weeks and also scanned at 16 weeks to generate an EBV index together with health screening.


The ram lambs are sold back to Innovis, which sells them to its own customer base. The high performance ewe lambs are retained as replacements or sold as
finished butcher lambs.

“The benefit to the farm is that we receive a premium price for the rams in exchange for management, recording and monitoring of the Abermax flock utilising equipment we already had for our own pedigree sheep enterprise,” says Barbara.

Another big part of our sheep enterprise is the sale of over 100 pedigree Texel shearling rams, however there are concerns as to whether the breeding sales later in the year will take place.

“We normally sell at a number of national ram sales as well as NSA ram sales at Builth, Melton Mowbray and Stoneleigh. We also have a strong home trade with many repeat customers, so we are hoping we can increase these sales and are looking into ways people can safely view them on-farm, in conjunction with online and vertical auctions.”

It was one of our ram customers, Sam and father, David Jones from Brookhouse Farm, who had seen the family’s various enterprises develop over the years and nominated the trio for the British Farming Awards.

Barbara says: “Winning the small to medium category was a big surprise and we had a great evening. It is good to be able to use the winning logo for advertising and marketing but it is also nice to have recognition for what we are doing and raise awareness of the business among people, particularly locally who perhaps did not really know what we do.”

The family still consider themselves first and foremost farmers, but recognise that agriculture alone could not have provided a secure financial future for all the family.

With those diversification enterprises now facing their biggest challenge with the coronavirus pandemic they are continuing to look ahead and plan how they can do things differently.

“We are monitoring the situation, revising our plans and constantly talking to people,” adds Barbara.

“We will adapt and learn a new way of doing things – as a Cheshire farmer once told me, unfortunately nothing stays the same.”