CPRE report – Uncertain Harvest: does the loss of farms matter?

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”.

Report Summary

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

2 thoughts on “CPRE report – Uncertain Harvest: does the loss of farms matter?

  1. As a small farmer I find that the CPRE pretends to care about farming but really only sees the countryside as a view for their members large houses. Farming is an industry in the countryside
    and farmers should be encouraged to farm and diversify to help
    cover the cost of producing ever cheaper quality food. What is the CPRE’s real agenda?

  2. CPRE’s is a broad church and our members are from towns and the countryside but I wonder who Anne has spoken to. I’d be happy to speak to her. I wrote the report. If we have an agenda it’s the one we set out in our reports and policy work. To be fair we care about landscape for its beauty and the fact people value it when they visit the countryside, but we also care about the state of farming as well as the environment. We understand farmers run businesses and have to make a living – my grandparents were all farmers so I know that first hand – but also that unless the market pays a fair rate then farms will continue to disappear. It’s not an easy issue to raise and we’ve taken flak for talking about small farms at all but my fear is that we will lose many more farms and a lot more besides if economics dominates the objectives we set for farming. I hope Anne will read this report and the one before New model farming and let me know if she feels the same.

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