What’s the Issue?
The UK is facing a renewal crisis in farming as the current population of farmers is aging and new entrants who would join the sector face multiple barriers to entry.
At the moment, a third of all farmers in the UK are over the typical retirement age of 65 years and the proportion of young people aged less than 35 years is around 3%. These issues are getting worse and the renewal crisis is deepening. Since 2005 the proportion in the 35-44 years old band has decreased by 5 percentage points whilst the proportion in the oldest band, 65 years and over, has increased by 5 percentage points.
There is an urgent need to bring new entrants into farming to increase our domestic production and self-sufficiency and to bring new skills and ideas in the sector. We currently have a trade gap of £24.4 billion in food, feed and drink and only produce 75% of the food we consume that we could grow here. This not only means our food security is weak and our food system is vulnerable to external shocks but also that we are missing opportunities to create livelihoods in farming here in the UK. In addition, less then 1/3 of UK farms undertake practices such as producing budgets, gross margins, cash flows or in depth profit and loss accounts and uptake of more sustainable farming methods is relatively slow. New entrants bring new ideas and skills into the sector and can help improve both the business management and environmental sustainability of the sector.
New Entrants who would like to join the sector face huge barriers to entry. Since the introduction of area-payments in 2005 the price of farmland has more than doubled and 35,000 farmers have left the land. This has compounded a chronic Access to Land issue for new entrants that is compounded by a lack of starter farm opportunities and the sell off of council farms.
Further issues facing new entrants are access to appropriate training, skills, and mentoring, the capital costs of setting up a business and the planning system that frequently makes it difficult for new entrants to gain permission for infrastructure and rights to live on site.
In addition, the low returns of farming work make borrowing money difficult and expensive and the rural locations and long hours can create fears of social isolation. On top of this, establishing local markets takes time and commitment and the grants and subsidies that are available to some farmers are often inaccessible or inappropriate for new entrants.
What are we doing?
In response to this situation, the Landworkers’ Alliance have developed a number of targeted policies to support New Entrants. These proposals include increased funding and support for on-farm agroecological training and apprenticeships, a capital grant scheme to overcome some of the barriers to entry and an land access scheme to both support organisations providing farm incubation opportunities and to stop the sell-off of council owned farm estates.
We are now working with Defra and our members to get these proposals developed into policy.
Adam Payne, LWA Farm Start campaign coordinator said:
‘There is a common misconception that there is a lack of motivation and ambition among a younger generation to engage with farming as a livelihood, however, for a growing number of young people farming represents a positive response to the challenges of climate change, globalisation and social inequality. As we enter a period of unprecedented uncertainty regarding both UK agricultural policy and food security it is essential that we recognise and encourage this demographic to bring new ideas and innovation to the agriculture sector.’
‘The policy proposals we are announcing are based on successful and established models of new-entrant support already operating across Scotland and elsewhere in Europe. These policies have not only facilitated a significant increase in the numbers of first-generation farmers entering the industry but have also led to improvements in efficiency and productivity as new entrants bring new ideas and innovative thinking.’
How can you help?
We are looking for case studies and business plans of New Entrants who have started successful agroecological farm businesses to add to the portfolio of evidence we are using to back up our proposals. If you can help with these please get in touch with Adam on firstname.lastname@example.org
Take to the streets and join our Food, Farming and Climate Justice march in London on the 5th October to demand urgent action.
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