Family farms must be given the tools to make their businesses fit for the future if the industry is to stem their continuing decline.
A new report, which revealed a 50 per cent decline in numbers since the beginning of the century, has laid bare the issues facing family enterprises, citing a lack of succession as one of the biggest risks.
The study, commissioned by the Prince’s Countryside Fund (PCF) and undertaken by the University of Exeter, uncovered a complex pattern of change, with many small units having been consolidated into expanding larger farms.
While unavoidable factors, such as price volatility, have played a key role in the decline, the report made a made a number of recommendations for farm businesses and the agriculture sector in general, which it said could have a positive impact.
These included developing a plan for succession or retirement, introducing new enterprises to diversify farm income, raising the minimum term for Farm Business Tenancies (FBTs) to 10 years on rural estates to encourage longer term planning and the creation of a taskforce to examine variable farm business performance and ultimately help improve performance.
There were also pointers for policymakers, including giving consideration in planning policies to allow farmers of retirement age to build a retirement property when they agree to facilitate new entrants through FBTs.
“Discussions should be held to establish what opportunities can be addressed through adjustments to tax reliefs currently available with the specific need to attract new entrants into farming,” the report added.
PCF director Claire Saunders said: “We are trying to find proactive ways to help the viability of every small farm.
“We want to support farmers to make sure they have the opportunities to make the right business decisions.”
PCF chairman Lord Curry said he hoped the document would provide a new catalyst for action ‘to ensure we have a thriving sector for the years ahead’.
The report was launched at this week’s Livestock Event at Birmingham’s NEC.