Family farms make up about 80 per cent of Britain’s agricultural landscape, but a lack of planning for the future is putting many at risk.
Family farms are the backbone of British farming but their numbers have been in sharp decline since the start of the century. These units, loosely defined as those which require the labour equivalent of two people, have halved over the past 17 years, according to a study by the Prince’s Countryside Fund in conjunction with the University of Exeter.
Britain’s farming families have, on average, been farming either the same farm or in the general vicinity for 105 years and have made a massive contribution to the rural economy, employment and environmental management of the landscape. Their presence has also helped shape the social and cultural landscape of our rural areas.
Claire Saunders, director of the Prince’s Countryside Fund, said there was a real need to offer farmers straight forward, practical advice and give them the tools to make their businesses sustainable.
She said: “We found that while smaller family farms were extremely vulnerable, there is a need for all family farms to increase their resilience going forward. “Regardless of size, the best farms are good at everything they do and are good, solid businesses run by good business people. “Whether that is in terms of the farming they do, the diversification, the succession planning or benchmarking; the best are those which know what is going on in their business and where they are going in the future.”
The Prince’s Farm Resilience programme offers a number of workshops across the country which will run throughout 2017.
*With help from a range of key industry stakeholders, Farmers Guardian’s Year of the Family Farm series has been set up to address the issues facing family farms and identify opportunities which will help them become fit for the future.
From how to resolve conflicts and agreeing who will run the farm in years to come, to assessing if diversification is right for a particular business and how to write a robust business plan, the series aims to provide readers with a practical guide.
Alexandra Wellings, managing director of agricultural insurance broker Farmers and Mercantile, said it was vital for the industry to get ‘back to basics’ and avoid the ‘information overload’ which farmers often faced when seeking business advice. She said: “We strongly believe that the small-to-medium sized farm business is the backbone of UK agriculture.
“At the same time, it is also the most vulnerable and we need to deliver practical solutions to ensure the sector survives and prospers. “Farmers and Mercantile is delighted to be supporting this exciting new initiative from Farmers Guardian, to ensure family farm businesses are afforded the most relevant and simplified commercial advice.”
Jackie Bradley, product manager for dairy nutrition expert Volac, said the continuing viability of family farms was critical for the survival of the sector’s supporting industries and suppliers.
“For us both to thrive we need a vibrant and productive UK livestock farming sector, which is why our product and support programmes remain firmly focused on helping family enterprises become more productive and sustainable,” she said.
“Family farms face many challenges, but this initiative will highlight many of the key issues that must be addressed in order to remain competitive in the modern, technology-based farming world.
It will also provide valuable guidance on the way forward and we applaud its motives.” ABP UK’s agricultural director, Richard Phelps said the firm which works with 12,000 British Farm Families across its beef and lamb businesses.
He said: “The resilience of family farms across Britain is unquestioned and we believe the Farmers Guardian initiative will build on that resilience and provide important and very necessary advice to farm families across the country on the important future opportunities and challenges facing the sector.”
Joanna Bailey, commercial manager of food assurance specialist NSF Agriculture, added: “Family farms are at the heart of the British agricultural industry and yet the challenges facing them post-Brexit are greater than ever.
“NSF is very pleased to sponsor this series offering practical support to farmers facing a wide range of difficult issues including succession and tax planning to the more practical problems of providing affordable and suitable housing for staff and family members.”
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