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Exclusive: Price of land primary barrier to getting foot on farming ladder

Though the average price of bare agricultural land in England and Wales has fallen by roughly one per cent over the past year, prices are still 40 per cent higher than they were 10 years ago.

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Exclusive: Price of land primary barrier to getting foot on farming ladder

The high price of land is seen by the next generation as the primary barrier to getting a foot on the farming ladder.

 

Though the average price of bare agricultural land in England and Wales has fallen by roughly one per cent over the past year, prices are still 40 per cent higher than they were 10 years ago.

 

This has put buying farmland out of reach for many younger farmers, with 40 per cent saying this was the number one issue preventing them from starting up.

 

Andrew Shirley, chief surveyor at the CLA, said: “Agricultural land prices are dictated by the market. While prices have increased over the last 15 years, they have been static for the several decades before that.


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“Of course, land prices often underpin the ability to raise finance to invest in productivity improvements. One of the other major impacts is the sheer cost of equipping a holding, whether this is purchasing livestock or buying machinery, then running the unit for the first year until you start to get some return on the capital invested.”

 

Though the price of land was the most commonly cited barrier to starting up a new business, a quarter of survey respondents said a lack of Government support such as state-backed loans or investment in county farms was what was stopping them from getting off the ground, while 23 per cent believed a late retiring older generation is holding them back.

 

The refusal of banks to lend for farming operations and an inability to access capital were also mentioned unprompted as major challenges, as alluded to by Mr Shirley.

 

Other farmers claimed low wages and long hours were preventing them taking up farming full-time, because there are more lucrative opportunities elsewhere.

 

This view was echoed in the answers to another question about what people were doing differently to their parents, with 17 respondents saying they had to hold down a job outside agriculture to fund their farming dream.

93 per cent of young farmers doing something different to parents

Ninety three per cent of young farmers are doing something differently to their parents, according to Farmers Guardian’s survey.

 

Making better use of new technology is the greatest change being driven forward by the next generation, whether for record keeping, boosting productivity, improving animal welfare or reducing environmental impact.

 

Diversification was the second-most common reform young farmers are pushing, with many branching out into holiday lets or glamping.

 

Others have already set up wedding businesses, farm shops or moved to produce hay and straw for the equine market.

 

The third biggest change the next generation are taking forward is making their farms more business-focused.

 

This is being done using a range of practices, including benchmarking, better debt management, improved cashflow control and bearing down on the cost of inputs.

 

‘Encouraging’

It was not uncommon for respondents to say they were ‘trying to make a business out of the farm, not just thinking it is a way of life’, or ‘making business decisions, not emotional decisions’.

 

Becoming more sustainable was another way respondents claimed they were farming differently to the last generation.

 

Many said they were entering environmental schemes for the first time, cutting antibiotic use, improving habitats, thinking about climate change or focusing more strongly on soil health.

 

Other changes being made include getting formal qualifications, learning lessons from overseas, educating the public, selling direct to consumers, planning for succession and improving work-life balance.

 

Just one respondent said they were working with a greater awareness of safety on-farm.

 

Phil Stocker, chief executive of the National Sheep Association, said: "This survey has thrown up some hugely encouraging results which give evidence to the fact that farming in Britain has a bright future.

 

"It clearly shows the next generation of farmers being highly committed, aware of the challenges agriculture is facing, and aware of the importance of sustainability relating to both business resilience and the wider environment.

 

"Technology, even simple gadgets like smart phones, has been talked about as being behind the next agricultural revolution and I think we are seeing this in action in the everyday workplace, meaning basic business management is easier to do.

 

"These results are a credit to the many young farmers who will be the future of our industry.

 

"I hope the results do not really reflect the next generation’s attitudes to safety in the workplace, and that safe practices are becoming more an everyday part of what people do, rather than being seen as something separate."


A selection of comments taken from the anonymous survey:

 

“I will not be retiring at death like the last generation. I want to give my children a chance to run the farm and for me to watch them do it.”

 

“We now plan ahead with every aspect. There is always a plan B, whereas before, there was a lot of sulking and swearing when things did not go to plan.”

 

“I do not come from a farming family, but I am passionate about discovering new ways to earn a living and learning how we can compare New Zealand farming to UK farming to make our profession more sustainable.”

 

“We have made our farm an ‘open farm’, which really every farmer should be happy to do to broadcast the message of how great British farming is and how animals are really treated.”

 

“I think the biggest challenge is the negative media and the public’s perception of British agriculture, which is nothing but negative at the moment.”

 

“I want to be able to have a sustainable business without the need for subsidies by selling stock for a fair price.”

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