Farmers in Staffordshire are facing an uncertain future following the county council’s decision to sell off a number of agricultural holdings in a bid to raise cash for healthcare and other services.
Staffordshire County Council said it hoped to raise £20 million from the sale of 16 ‘non-core’ farms.
Tenants at the selected farms will be offered the opportunity to buy first, but if they opt not to buy then the units will be sold with them as sitting tenants.
One tenant not affected by the sale and who asked not to be named, said she feared the axe would fall on other farms soon.
“The farmers who have had letters in this round are coming up to the end of their tenancies but I doubt they would be able to afford to buy their farms,” she said.
“It is a worrying time for everyone as we do not know how many others will go through the back door.
“It is a sad situation but austerity continues to bite and these estates are worth a fortune.”
The area selected for sale extends to about 1,700 acres and comprises 16 let farm holdings and other vacant land and property not considered to be part of the ‘core’ estate.
The Tenant Farmers Association said it was saddened to hear of another council selling off tenant farms from its rural portfolio to pay for council services.
“These farms should be looked on as a national asset, and not as something to be sold to fill a budget shortfall,” said TFA treasurer Robert Martin.
“The importance of domestic food production, especially in the context of post Brexit planning, is brought home more clearly, especially if this land is taken out of agricultural production.
“The TFA understands that three of the farms to be sold off are starter farms, which closes another avenue to young farmers wanting to make a start in this industry.
"If larger tenanted units are also sold off, then the ability for tenants to move their business forwards by moving onto another farm as their business grows is also stifled."
Mark Winnington, Staffordshire County Council’s Cabinet member for Economic Growth, defended the decision.
He said: “Unlike some other local authorities over the years we have invested in our farm estate to keep it viable and to maximise efficiency and value.
“As part of that we regularly review our holdings and we will continue to invest in the future.
“The estate will still be more than 6,600 acres and still give ambitious newcomers the opportunity to benefit from professional support and management as they gain experience and then step up to something bigger; either within the authority’s estate, or in the wider industry.”
Part of the income raised will also be reinvested in the county farms estate. Money from previous sales has been invested into superfast broadband, building schools, roads and extra care facilities, as well as creating industrial estates.