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.

The diversification of farm businesses has expanded rapidly since foot and mouth disease significantly damaged farm incomes at the start of the last decade. Those ventures have added value and have gone some way towards balancing risk, but a great number of these projects are now facing fresh challenges.

Many farm shop owners have shown great enterprising spirit to adapt their businesses quickly to social distancing rules. Contactless drive-throughs, home deliveries and online orders are helping maintain vital incomes for farming families and their teams of workers, whilst giving customers precious access to quality local food as an alternative to supermarkets.

At the same time, however, other sources of farm incomes are being damaged, such as in the tourism sector where holiday bookings at on-farm accommodation have been cancelled at the start of the traditionally busy spring season.

“To anyone in farming across Yorkshire who has diversified into tourism, my advice would be to sit tight,” said Christine Ryder, who chairs the Yorkshire Rural Support Network, 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 Agricultural Society’s new Farm To Fork social media campaign championed Mrs Ryder this week as it seeks to celebrate the hard work of farmers and farm retailers at a time when access to reliable supplies of food is a key concern.

Nidderdale-based Mrs Ryder, who produces quality lamb and beef for local independent butchers, emphasised that maintaining good communication among the farming community at a time of increased social isolation is hugely important.

She said: “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.”

The Farm To Fork campaign sets out to publicly acknowledge farmers’ invaluable work across Yorkshire and to demonstrate that 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. Nonetheless, their work to produce quality food continues, something we want to celebrate at a time when uninterrupted supplies of essentials are so important to us all.

“As a society, we want our farmers to feel the weight of our support and that is why we are showcasing what they do as part of our campaign.”