UK farmers earn more money as social media influencers after rough year

A farmer delivers winter feed to his cattle at a dairy farm near Thame, UK. American farmers started showing off their lives and work a few years ago, now their UK counterparts are following suit to boost unstable incomes. Some are making more money from YouTube than growing food. — Bloomberg

British farmers are facing a difficult harvest. Costs are up almost a third from last year according to government figures, low rainfall and record temperatures have led to poor yields and labour shortages mean some crops are left rotting in the fields.

In a bid to diversify their income, some farmers are turning to social media. American farmers started showing off their lives and work a few years ago, now their UK counterparts are following suit to boost unstable incomes. Some are making more money from YouTube than growing food.

Olly Harrison, a cereals farmer in Merseyside, said he’s made £55,000 (RM292,633) on his YouTube channel in the last year – compared to a loss of £240,000 (RM1.27mil) on his farm, due to bad weather and rising input prices. He expected to pull in “at least £8,000 (RM42,564)” from advertisements in October, an amount that will go into “propping up” his farm. Harrison has expanded his online business into merchandise, including branded hats and calendars printed with pictures of his farm.

He started uploading 10-minute videos about life on the farm every day since the beginning of lockdown in March 2020, so far gaining over 51,000 followers to his channel “Olly Blogs Agricontract farmer”. His videos have received over 21 million views in total, a number that is so high that Harrison said he was invited to speak to someone in Google’s London office.

“(YouTube) is pure profit,” he said, comparing its relatively high margins to the wafer-thin ones in agriculture, which would require an £80,000 (RM425,657) monthly revenue to take home as much. He added that the amount he will make this year is roughly equivalent to his farming subsidy, which are being reviewed post-Brexit.

Ian Pullen, who farms mostly cattle on 60 acres in Gloucestershire, said his YouTube channel currently makes as much as the cattle on his farm. His 37,000 subscribers follow daily videos which show him dredging ditches and spreading muck. He raised enough money to buy a new barn last year.

Pullen says that one of the chief problems on his farm this year has been spiralling costs. He recently bought 11 tonnes of fertiliser for £10,000 (RM53,207) – while the same amount would have cost £3,000 (RM15,964) three years ago.

While UK inflation hit 10.1% in September, the rate for farm inputs has soared about three times higher with a rate of 30.7%, according to the Agricultural Price Index. Figures compiled by the AF procurement group show that fertiliser prices have more than doubled in a year, fuel was 43% more expensive and livestock feed and medicine was 36% more expensive than the same time last year.

But farmers who know the ups and downs of agriculture are also wary that YouTube income might not be guaranteed forever. Pullen said while online income was a “godsend”, it could be “gone tomorrow” if social media companies change how they operate.

The all-year income from social media is welcome income diversification for farms that have limited growing seasons, like Sarah Gray’s half-acre flower growing plot. She can only sell flowers from her East Yorkshire farm between April and October, but her YouTube channel brings in £500 (RM2,660) to £600 (RM3,192) a month year-round. As well as making money from advertising, she sells access to pre-recorded video tutorials, which she said are purchased as far away as New Zealand.

Mistakes or bad luck with the weather is not good for farming flowers, YouTube users can be more forgiving. “It kind of doesn’t matter if I get failures growing the flowers,” she said. “People like to see my failures as well my successes, so I’ll still always get revenue.”

While the YouTube income is welcome, some farmers would rather pack up their cameras and make the money in more traditional ways. “I would give it all up tomorrow just for a profit on the farm,” said Harrison. – Bloomberg

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