The study, funded by the Prince’s Countryside Fund (PCF) and undertaken by the University of Exeter, will identify the extent and pace of change in small family farms and provide insights into the types of farming which are replacing traditional small-scale farming.
PCF director Claire Saunders said: “This is a pivotal time for British agriculture, and family farms in the UK remain under threat.
“Much of our understanding of their condition is anecdotal. In many areas we lack thorough evidence.
“We hope our findings will offer greater clarity and help us to more effectively support family farms across the UK.”
The research will consider whether and how the decline of family farms might impact on food production or environmental management and the role these farms might play in responding to future challenges.
It will seek to identify ways to increase the viability of family farming and identify the support these farm businesses require.
The research will also consider how farmers might improve performance and viability through methods such as diversification, co-operation, and succession.
PCF trustee Lord Don Curry said family farms were ‘woven into the social fabric of rural life’ and their decline was impacting communities, services and potentially the mental health of many working in the rural economy.
“Britain’s family farms continue to face a perfect storm,” added Lord Curry.
“The recent flooding has affected farms throughout the north of England and Scotland - those farms will face multiple hardships to come as they recover.
“The depression in prices across the main agricultural sectors has been unprecedented in recent years and the volatility in milk prices alone has held the news agenda for months.
“British lamb and beef prices have been hit by weak export trade and domestic demand.”
Lord Curry said the security of British family farms was too important an issue to disregard.
He added: “Some of Britain’s family farms are centuries old; we hope our research will be able to inform the vital advice and support on offer, and see them through challenging times to make their farm businesses resilient to market forces.”