A UK-wide project has been launched which seeks to discover the true value of the country's farm shops to help develop the sector further.
There’s been some evidence that over the course of the pandemic, as the public strove to stay local, retail patterns have changed – with a growing appetite for British farm shops.
Farm retailers have provided a lifeline to local communities throughout the year, sourcing supplies during shortages and delivering produce to vulnerable people.
It is estimated that there are well over 1,000 premises up and down the country which would fall under the definition of farm shop.
Now the new research, by the Farm Retail Association and Harper Adams University, will aim to clarify this as it seeks to build a clearer picture of the sector.
Researchers want to discover the impact farm shops have not only with their local communities, farmers and suppliers, but also upon the wider economy and the UK’s rural landscape.
The study will also draw upon the views of Farm Retail Association members, who are to be sent a survey in the coming days which asks them for their views on the sector and its impact.
Harper Adams senior lecturer in food marketing, Alastair Boot said: “We know that farm shops are valued – both by the retail and agricultural sectors, and by the communities they serve.
“However, there is a need to build up a picture of the sector as a whole and its impact across the country – and this is where our research will come in.
"Once we develop that clearer understating, it can be used to make the case for the nation’s existing farm shops, and to help develop the sector further.”
The research is the biggest project the Farm Retail Association has ever undertaken, with the body saying the results would 'fly the flag' for the industry.
Chairman Rob Copley said: “We are encouraging all farm retailers to take part in this nation-wide survey to get a clear picture of what our sector is worth to the economy and reflecting the vital role our farm retailers play in communities.
"This will then help not only promote farm retailers but also support those businesses with planning application and funding bids.”
It is anticipated that the survey results will be released in spring next year.
It follows NFU Mutual research revealing that one in four people used farm shops or local producers more in 2020.
Rebecca Davidson, rural affairs specialist at the insurer, said the rise of countryside retailers across the UK had been 'no mean feat'.
"Many farm shops have worked round the clock transforming their business model to meet demand, such as introducing click and collect services," she said.
"Staff have adapted from serving in farm shop cafes to processing and delivering online orders, and stores have redesigned their layouts to offer Covid-safe shopping experiences.”