The second in their Food and Farming Foresight series of papers planned over two years, this report by Graeme Willis “focuses on diversity in the size of farms and how this may be threatened as farms continue to disappear”.
CPRE states that the “purpose of the series is not to set out CPRE’s official policy position on the future shape of the food and farming system. Rather, it is to explore ‘blue-sky’ policy solutions and provoke wide-ranging discussion on the future shape of food and farming.”
They see this time of change as an opportunity to “develop a new vision and policies to establish a sound future for farming”.
They this invite “comment on the policy recommendations . . . as well as suggestions on subjects for future papers”.
The paper looks at the data on farm numbers and sizes and raises questions about the loss of farms and their diversity.
UK data show that we have lost over a fifth of English farms in the past ten years alone. In particular, the number offarms below 200 hectares is falling. Numbers of intermediate and smaller farms are declining, though smaller farms are the worst affected. If current trends continue, few if any farms under 20ha could be left within a generation while most of those up to 50ha could be gone in two generations. Worse still, the official data may underestimate the extent of change occurring in who manages the land.
This report argues that farm size diversity is a crucial consideration as we move towards Brexit. It could help deliver the many public benefits that we need farming to provide and that public funding – and the market where possible – should foster and reward.
Key policy recommendations
This paper calls on the Government to act. We make five key recommendations to address the current deficits in information, research, policy, funding and strategy. By addressing these, the Government has the opportunity to seize the moment and set out a bold and challenging agenda for change. A central aim should be to halt the loss of diversity and over time reverse it. To this end, the Government should:
• Analyse and present better Government data on the size structure of the industry and drivers of change.
• Fund and publish research to carry out an extensive impact assessment of the historic and continuing fall in farm numbers in England.
• Support an independent commission, such as the new RSA-hosted Food, Farming and Countryside Commission to comprehensively review policies to maintain a structurally diverse farming industry.
• Maintain public investment to secure farmers’ incomes for an interim period and commit to targeted long-term funding to maintain a diverse farmed countryside.
• Set out a strategy to regenerate the farming industry by supporting a new generation of farmers with new entrants and measures to transform performance across the sector.
The Government has a leadership role to play but cannot do this alone. We call on all those concerned about the future of farming to take up this issue – from industry representatives to environmental, food and development NGOs, rural communities and other interested parties. Together we need to make the diversity of the farming sector – both its structure and the opportunities it offers – a key issue of public debate as we head for momentous change