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Campaign launched to help “mend” the farming ladder


The farming ladder the traditional route into the industry for new entrants is now in grave danger of being permanently broken, making it harder to attract bright young entrepreneurs into farming.

Thats the view of Sir Don Curry, policy advisor to the last Government. His concern has led him to launch an appeal to all landlords to retain a pool of land on which enterprising, farm entrepreneurs can develop their business ideas.

Speaking on the eve of the Fresh Start-Easton College conference; Farming The Next Generation, Sir Don said:

The first challenge is to halt the sell-off of Council holdings. That estate has to be maintained as the first step on the ladder. But then we need the next move in place.

I have in mind farms between 250-500 acres, depending on geographical location and farm type, that could be retained within large estate portfolios specifically to be let on an FBT, or by an alternative arrangement, to a younger person. It might be helpful if these farms had diversification opportunities to help ensure they were economically sustainable.

Since the publication of the Curry Policy Commission Report in January 2002, Sir Don has been concerned about how the farming sector is promoted as a career and how to create opportunities for new entrants. He helped bring together industry leaders to develop Fresh Start, an initiative designed to help equip younger people to enter farming, confident in their ability and with skill set needed to take advantage of farming opportunities.

Since its launch in 2004, some 28 Fresh Start Academies have been set up, some now on their second and third cohorts. About 350-400 students have benefited from attendance at the Fresh Start Academies. These successes are creating an exciting pool of talent looking for farming opportunities within the farming sector.

In November 2008, Sir Don wrote a report, The Importance of the County Farms Service to the Rural Economy.

It is my firm belief that the County Council Farm structure needs to be retained as it is one of the very few entry points into agriculture for those wanting to start a business. That estate is not just an asset on the balance sheet of the appropriate Authority, but a National asset as far as the structure of agriculture is concerned..

Many of the smaller County Council farms should only be regarded, as they were originally intended to be, as starter units and I have been encouraging Local Authorities, using FBTs, to ensure that prospective tenants for such units be taken on with the clear understanding that they should aim to use their starter farm opportunity to establish a business and move on to larger units within an agreed timescale.

It is this aspect of the business that now concerns me. The farming ladder, a system that has served agriculture so well in the past, is now in danger of failing and I am, therefore, contacting institutional landowners and large estates to try to create a debate about these concerns said Sir Don.

I am concerned to keep the door open to new entrants and provide a reasonable career path. We are well aware that many estates do provide such units but it is a temptation when land becomes available on large estates to let it to existing tenants in order to help them to develop businesses of scale and become sustainable. I fully respect this having served on the Board to the Crown Estates for eight years.

The Fresh Start initiative itself, in the form of its National Stakeholder Group, is following up Sir Dons initiative by taking its own action to seek discussions with large private and institutional landowners. Denis Chamberlain, Chairman of the Fresh Start National Stakeholder Group, said that continuity of opportunity was crucial to attracting young people with good commercial ideas and robust business plans.

Thousands of holdings have disappeared in recent decades and if this trend is not reversed, we run the very significant danger of creating a closed industry with little opportunity for anyone to enter. This is not a plea for altruism but for a pragmatic and very commercial decision to be made affecting a relatively small part of individual portfolios, said Denis.

We are delighted to support Sir Dons effort to encourage landowners to consider what is proposed as a serious attempt to ensure we retain in Britain a farming ladder and that a proportion of farms are retained, strategically, to provide good business opportunities, not by chance but as a deliberate policy, by our large estates.

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