Access to land for a new generation of farmers in Europe

This new report from the Access to Land group of EU farming organisations (funded by Erasmus) explores the difficulties and opportunities  for new farmers.

Here’s the introduction to the report:

European farmers are a greying population. More than half of European farmers will retire within 10 years, while only 7% are under the age of 35. Many senior farmers have no successors in their family, and have no identified successor outside of it. The question of who is going to be the next generation of European farmers is a very pressing one. Who will grow our food? Who will sustain rural economies and communities? Who will maintain open landscapes for everybody to enjoy?

There is also a major challenge in ensuring both the continuity and the necessary evolutions between the generations of farmers. How to avoid losing preciously developed soil quality and know-how held by the current generation of passionate farmers? And how to allow new farmers to develop more agroecological forms of farming?

Within the new generation of farmers, most new farmers are direct successors, also called “continuers”, i.e. young people taking over the family farm. But intra-family farm succession—which for centuries has been the dominant form of entry into farming in
Europe—is losing ground. Increasingly, the children of farmers opt for other careers, as many view farming as a profession requiring considerable working time and hard physical labour while earning little income and receiving little public recognition.

On the other hand, on the ground, a growing number of people are seeking to enter farming, without a family farm and sometimes even without prior experience with farming. These new farmers may be defined as “newcomers” to farming, or ex novo
new entrants. Many of them turn towards agroecological forms of farming and favour innovation—organic farming, short supply chains, community-supported agriculture, and on-farm food processing— which increase on-farm added value, while contributing to local
quality food, jobs and environmental protection. The exact number and potential of these newcomers is not well-known, as only a few countries have collected data and conducted studies about them.

It is also recognised that there is more of a continuum than a divide between continuers and newcomers. Many newcomers indeed have some connection with farming, through relatives, a rural background, on-farm experience, etc., while some continuers may
decide to continue farming but not take on the family farm, or to transform it radically (e.g. from a specialised farm to mixed farming, or from conventional to organic).

Our organisations are grassroots groups working to facilitate farm succession and entry of a new generation in a number of ways:
——training and advising young farmers and aspiring farmers,
——advising senior farmers and landowners to facilitate farm transmission,
——acquiring farms in order to make them available to new entrants, especially newcomers, under favourable terms,
——advocating for the preservation of existing farms and their transfer to a new generation,
——advocating for better support mechanisms for new entrants and progressive entry into farming.

Our vision is that of a Europe with multiple farms, farmers and local food systems, making European food and farming systems more resilient, creating jobs and activities in the countryside, providing safe, high-quality food, preserving the environment and
contributing to lively rural communities.

Our daily experience in advising and supporting new farmers, particularly newcomers, highlights the considerable hurdle of accessing land for farming. Access to land is now widely recognised as the number one obstacle to entering farming in Europe. Yet, the situation remains little-known and little-studied. Moreover, most public policies supporting new entrants, at the local, national and European level, are conceived for continuers and fail to address the specific needs and challenges of newcomers. And most agricultural policies give little consideration to land market regulations and specific mechanisms to facilitate access to land for new farmers.

This report aims to share our experience and analyses of the situation for new farmers and their access to land in our countries. It also presents a number of new farmers, to highlight their diverse backgrounds, difficulties and pathways into farming. All of these portraits also emphasise their enthusiasm, innovativeness and dedication to becoming a farmer. They also illustrate various ways in which they access land, often with the support of farmers’ organisations or various civil society movements. Based on these country studies and new farmers’ portraits, we then attempt to present an overview and characterise these novel ways to access land for farming. The report ends with an exploration of farm
incubators, which constitute one of the growing innovations to help new farmers (particularly newcomers) enter farming, including by providing start-up access to a plot of land.

Access to Land for Real Farming in the UK

This study, written by Robert Fraser (Real Farming Trust) explores the various financial / investment models and other related initiatives that could help with access to land for agroecological farming and growing. It reviews the current situation in the UK and the various initiatives being developed both here and in the rest of Europe and the USA, and comes up with some recommendations for supporting those seeking access to land in the UK.

The study looks at various models, including land trusts, a national ‘farmland investment fund’, bridging finance and the potential for attracting social investment into land and land-based projects, as well as other initiatives that support new entrants, but do not rely on the purchase of the land itself.
The key questions needing to be addressed can be summarised as follows:
– What lessons can we learn from other countries and initiatives?
– How can we funnel more investment into land for agroecological farming?
– Is there room for a new farmland trust or fund?
– How can the existing organisations work more closely together?
– Can land be secured for agroecological farming, without having to buy it?
– What else needs to change to help with access to land (e.g. policy, advice, etc.)?

The study sets out to:
– understand the current situation in the UK from the perspective of existing organisations
– learn from other countries, finding key exemplars,
– summarise the key lessons learned from these case studies
– review the various ideas, initiatives and business models that might work in the UK
– develop a set of recommendations and next steps.

The price of UK agricultural land

This piece by Peter Hetherington was published on Wednesday (Sept 2) in the Guardian.  He outlines how it is that farmland in Britain has “become the safest investment for those with a few spare millions to offload. Prices are up by a staggering 277% in a decade, according to Savills market survey of UK agricultural land 2015. Prime London property has risen by a mere 127% in the same period. Taking a cue from Mark Twain – “buy land, they’re not making it anymore” – institutions and the rich are queueing up to get their hands on the country’s most basic resource.”

His new book, Whose Land is our Land published in August puts the case for policy reform backed by strong government action.

Realising the Right to Food in an Age of Climate Change

More support for small farms, this in a report by Chelsea Smith, David Elliott and Susan H. Bragdon from the Quaker United Nations Office, Geneva (May 2015).

Summary as follows:

• Industrial agriculture is a major contributor to anthropogenic climate change, and in turn climate change threatens the viability of food production around the world.

• Adapting to changing growing conditions will require access to the full breadth of genetic, species and ecosystem diversity that exists and continues to evolve, along with the knowledge of what works under what conditions.

• Modern varieties can yield immense public benefit. However their dissemination is often accompanied by the erosion of on-farm genetic diversity, loss of associated local knowledge, and the abandonment of traditional farming practices. This undermines our critical capacity to adapt to already-changing conditions.

• In their roles as experimenters, innovators and custodians of agrobiodiversity, small-scale farmers are integral to the pursuit of global food security in an era of climate change.

• The field of agroecology recognizes the contributions of small-scale farmers and provides a framework for integrating local and scientific innovation systems and mitigating the negative environmental effects of industrial agriculture.

• Complementarity between local and scientific innovation systems is best achieved when small-scale farmers lead the development of research agendas and are actively involved in the research process.

• Proactive measures need to be undertaken to support small-scale, agriculturally biodiverse farming systems to secure local and global food security, and hence the right to food, in the future.

European Parliament study on farmland grabbing calls for a reform of European land governance

This study published May 2015 was requested by the European Parliament’s Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development.

Executive Summary

This study examines the issue of farmland grabbing in the EU.

Europe is largely believed to be situated outside of the “global land grab”, the popular term to describe the rising global interest in farmland and the increase in large-scale land deals world-wide. This study counters this suggestion by showing that there is significant, albeit partial, evidence that farmland grabbing is underway in the EU today, as measured by the degree of foreign ownership of land, the capturing of control over extended tracts of land, and the irregularities that have accompanied various land transactions. The scale and scope of farmland grabbing in the EU is however limited when compared to countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and former Soviet Eurasia, with preliminary evidence indicating that farmland grabbing is concentrated in particular in Eastern European Member States.

Farmland grabbing in the EU involves a heterogeneous set of actors including foreign and domestic, state and non-state, natural and legal persons. In addition to the establishment of large, corporate agricultural enterprises in Europe with the involvement of capital from all over the world, the rush for land has seen a new class of financial investor, not traditionally involved in the agricultural sector and made up of banking groups, investment funds, individual traders, and private equity companies, involved in farmland acquisition in the EU. Farmland grabbing in Europe also involves a new set of “land deal brokers ” made of speculators and scammers who mediate corporate and state interests in land

These diverse set of actors reflect the multiple drivers of farmland grabbing in the EU including: differential land prices throughout the EU which have encouraged speculation and processes of ‘land artificialisation’ ; the unintended consequences of land reforms, land privatisation and land consolidation programmes in Eastern European Member States; the link between control over land and access to payments under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP); and a variety of other EU policies linked to food, energy, trade, finance and investment.

The study argues that the impacts of farmland grabbing, which remains a limited phenomenon in Europe, must be placed within the context of broader structural changes within the EU agriculture. Against the backdrop of dramatic levels of land concentration and the rapid exit of Europe’s small farms, farmland grabbing, through its control, privatisation and/or dispossession of natural resources, has become an active factor in the further weakening of the socio-economic and environmental vitality of the rural sector. It is leading to the further erosion of Europe’s model of family farming based on a sustainable and multifunctional form of agriculture and blocking the entry into agriculture of young and aspiring farmers. This has real implications for European food security, employment, welfare, and biodiversity as with the demise and marginalisation of small-scale farming in Europe, the multiple benefits of this type of farming system and way of life are also eroded.

It is in this sense that the study draws broader connections between the ongoing but limited process of farmland grabbing in the EU and other burning land issues in Europe today. It makes a strong case that the ongoing (generic) trend of farmland concentration in Europe is just as problematic and deserving of policy attention as farmland grabbing. Not only does the highly skewed distribution of land in Europe conflict with the EU’s structural goal of dispersed land ownership, it has the danger of introducing profound disequilibria in European society as a whole. This study therefore challenges the notion that the ‘land question ’ in Europe is closed. On the contrary, we have a pressing land problem in Europe concerning the access to, control over, and use of land .

With this background in mind, the study offers the following specific recommendations addressed to EU policy makers for regulating farmland grabbing in the EU. These are linked to the four horizontal frameworks  (Internal Market, Agriculture, Environment, and Territorial Cohesion) upon which regulation at EU level is possible:

1. Internal market:

• We recommend that the EU should allow Member States greater freedom to regulate the sale and lease of farmland within their territory, and call upon the European Court of Justice to show greater flexibility in its interpretation of the principle of the free movement of capital. A land market based only on the four freedoms (free movement of goods, persons, services and capital) is not sufficient to deal with the risk of discrimination and marginalisation related to sensitive issues surrounding the access to, control over, and use of farmland. Justifiable restrictions to the principle of the free movement of capital,  in line with sound political objectives that are in the public interest, should be deepened and enlarged to allow Member States greater regulatory control.

• There are a number of policy options that Member States may consider in this respect including setting upper limits for the acquisition of agricultural land and to create a system of pre-emptive rights to help those whose landed property is below this upper limit. Member States should also support the use of land sharing arrangements and land banks which support access to land for small, young, and aspiring farmers.

• To facilitate Member States in regulating farmland within their territory, we recommend the development at EU wide level of new data collecting instruments on patterns of land tenure in Europe. The creation of a European Observatory,  as proposed by the Peasant’s Trade Union amongst others, that would document shifts in land ownership and include important economic, social and environmental criteria could be an important step towards developing a truly pan-European and socially relevant database on the state of the land in Europe today.

2. Adjustments to the 2013 CAP toolbox

• To break the link between the concentration of land and the concentration of subsidies, Member States should implement adjustments to the 2013 CAP toolbox which aim at empowering small farmers and ‘de-concentrating’ the land market  in order to curtail farmland grabbing. To do this, we recommend the European Commission and Member States to:

–  set the rate of internal convergence of payments to 100%

–  adopt the redistributive payment as soon as possible and with the highest share of Pillar 1

–  capping the basic payment above EUR 150,000 by applying a 100% reduction in payments and consider the possibility of setting up a lower capping at EUR 100,000

–  make use of the young farmer scheme to the fullest extent possible, that is, using the 2% of the national envelope for any new exploitation regardless of its size

–  make use of the small farmer scheme at its maximum allowable level of €1,250 and consider raising the maximum to more fully meet the needs of Europe’s small farmers

–  monitor the application of the CAP’s new greening policies

–  use coupled payments to strengthen sectors in difficulty

–  adopt a definition of an active farmer which is clearly anchored in the notion of work on the farm. The current exemption threshold of EUR 5,000 must be revised down as it excludes many of the smallest producers, particular in the NMS

3. Environment

• We recommend the adoption of environmental regulation at EU level to tackle the effects of land degradation arising from farmland grabbing based on a model of industrial agriculture. From this perspective, we encourage the further development of the Land as a Resource  process.

4. Territorial cohesion

•  We recommend that the Territorial Policy of the European Union should take into account the diversity and the richness of the rural areas and integrate marginal rural areas into broader development strategies that strive towards a balanced territorial development, both between the economic, social, environmental and cultural functions of a territory and between urban and rural spaces.

5. Implementation of the Tenure Guidelines in the EU

• We recommend adopting a clear political orientation at the EU level on land through the crafting of a legal instrument. This could take the form of an EC Recommendation on Land, to be implemented through a series of EU Directives  based on the four horizontal frameworks (Internal Market, Agriculture, Environment and Territorial Cohesion) which would aim at a comprehensive, holistic and human rights based approach to land. This would set out a strong and ambitious vision for the governance of (farm)land in the EU while offering Member States sufficient room for manoeuvre and flexibility in interpretation.

• We recommend using the Tenure Guidelines for improving land governance in the European Union  and informing the development of an EC Recommendation on Land. Implementation of the Tenure Guidelines must take into account the competences of the EU and of the Member States.

Ecological Land Co-operative: New Share Offer

Colin and I have visited the Ecological Land Co-operative’s first site at Greenham Reach in Devon and met the tenants there. This – their second share offer, continues in pioneering spirit and is well worth taking a look at!

The Ecological Land Co-operative (ELC) is a social enterprise, established to provide affordable sites for ecological land-based livelihoods. The ELC seeks to address a range of complex and deep-rooted social and environmental challenges in a uniquely simple, pragmatic way: by removing barriers to land access for sustainable uses. We develop smallholdings aimed at new entrants to horticulture and mixed farming, and we protect our sites for affordability and agricultural use in perpetuity.

Our first project is a cluster of three affordable smallholdings for new entrants to organic horticulture at Greenham Reach, Devon. Having successfully developed this first site, we are now seeking to fund the development of our next site via withdrawable community shares.

About our Community Share Offer

Based on the success of our first cluster of small farms at Greenham Reach, we plan to create around 20 new ecological smallholdings between 2015 and 2020. We’re currently looking to raise finance, through community shares, to fund our next cluster of farms. We are looking to raise £340,000.

We have produced a model which is both pioneering and financially sound. We have produced a share prospectus and business plan, which set out both the detail of our offer, and how we will achieve our goals. You can find these, and more information about our share offer on the 2015 Share Offer section of our website.

Investors have the opportunity to purchase between 500 and 40,000 shares per individual or company in this offer, with shares valued at £1 each. On investing, you become a member of the Ecological Land-Co-operative, with voting rights, and the capacity to stand for election to the Board of Directors.

The share offer opens on 27th April 2015 and closes on 26th July 2015.

Why Invest?

Our work is centred on the development of ecological smallholdings, but the impacts of our work are wider than this; our creation of ecological holdings also:

  • Demonstrates a model of collective ownership that can protect and enhance the land, based not only on ideas of conservation, but on producing a living and working countryside;
  • Contributes to, and strengthens the growing community of individuals and organisations committed to fostering the skills, knowledge and solidarity to allow the land to sustain us as we head into unpredictable times;
  • Through our site monitoring provides research and impetus that helps strengthen campaigns for land reform; and
  • Seeks to improve planning policy by providing evidence and examples that low-impact ecological land use has multiple benefits and should be embraced and legislated for.

We would love you to be part of our work, and we hope that you choose to join us. We need your help in making our vision a reality; widening land access, producing sustainable food, and living lightly on the earth.

Progress So Far

Following the launch of our Community Share Offer at the end of April, we’ve already raised £185,000 – over 50% of the money we need to create our next cluster of affordable ecological smallholdings – through a mixture of share capital and loan finance.

We’re absolutely delighted with the upswell of support for our work, but we’re still actively seeking more social investors to reach our target of £340,000.

Find Out More

If you’re interested in what we’re trying to achieve, and have £500 or more that you could potentially invest, this is a great opportunity to contribute to the development of low-impact agriculture in the UK. We’d love to hear from you!

For further information about this share offer and/or the work of the Ecological Land Co-operative please visit our website, www.ecologicalland.coop, or contact Directors Zoe Wangler (zoe@ecologicalland.coop) or Cate Chapman (cate@ecologicalland.coop) either by email, or by phone on 01273 911494.

Who will be tomorrow’s farmers?

In this second blog-post published on June 5 for the FCRNProfessor Michael Hamm C.S. Mott Professor of Sustainable Agriculture – Michigan State University and Director of the MSU Center for Regional Food Systems explores the future of farming. Who will farm? How will they access land? “How will they gain the skills to farm in environmentally friendly ways and continuously improve as new practices emerge?  Where will they learn to manage a farm business in a profitable and sustainable way – that is in a manner that provides a good livelihood for them and their families, produces significant amounts of food, and improves the resource base?”

He takes as his example the situation in the US but what he says applies equally well to the Europe. Thus:

“In the U.S. we import more total food per capita (link is external) (227 pounds per person in 1989 – 358 pounds/person in 2009) and fruits/vegetables (link is external) each year.  These imports primarily represent food diversification and off-season fruit and vegetable access.  The U.S. has had an increasing fruit/vegetable trade deficit since the mid-90’s with the largest share coming from Mexico (36% of total produce imports in 2011) – a country with a projected 30 million population increase (link is external) over the next thirty-five years.  We should ask (at least) two questions – do we continue down a road of fruit/vegetable trade deficits from countries with growing populations and fresh water sufficiency challenges?  Put another way, is the U.S. model of food sourcing scalable to an urbanized world of 9 billion?  What happens if the U.S. eater shifts consumption to a healthier diet with increased fruit/vegetable consumption and less meat/total calories?  I think these questions argue against a business as usual approach in the 21st century.

It is estimated (link is external) there will be two urban for every rural resident in 2050.  An increasingly urbanized globe needs to feed itself, yet there will be fewer people living in those rural areas that provide the bulk of food.  How do we (as a global community) insure food security for an increasingly urban population? How do we move from coerced resilience (link is external), that is resilience driven by human inputs, to resilience that is driven by the ecosystems in which food production occurs?”

And he looks at the options for feeding the US population in 2050: “expanding food imports, possibly to the detriment of urban consumers in those exporting countries’;

vs “producing a greater share within our borders and reducing pressure on other countries’ food production. Can we produce it closer to the point of consumption and minimize fresh water migration?  Can we do this not as a reactionary or nationalistic response to global trade but as a conscious strategy for resiliency improvement and global food security cooperation?”

The full piece can be found here

How to feed a city

This blog-post, published on May 20 for the FCRN, is written by Professor Michael Hamm, C.S. Mott Professor of Sustainable Agriculture – Michigan State University and Director of the MSU Center for Regional Food Systems. It’s the first in a series on the value of city region food systems.

This first piece “explore[s] ways to look at city region food systems – recognizing they will exist in a wide range of ecological, social, and political environments”.

This from the introduction:

“We face a historic food challenge.  A report [4] from the United Nations highlights the growth trends of various sized cities (see adjacent figure). Today about four billion people live in cities- half in cities under 500,000.  There are 417 cities with 1-5 million people today and will be 558 in 2030.  During this time period cities over 500,000 will increase from 1,000 to 1,400.  This, I think, begs several questions.  How will all people in these cities have access to a daily, healthy diet and where will it come from?   Will all these people go through a nutrition transition [5] (a diet higher in animal products and greatly increased calorie consumption) as incomes increase and will others improve their dietary patterns [6] from the disease-promoting practices of today?  How will supply chains evolve to both increase livelihood opportunities and supply safe, nutritious food to all these city residents?  How will climate change and fresh water challenges differentially impact food security in different cities?  How will we manage the increased amounts of urban human and food waste? How do we move to food systems that are increasingly more sustainable as well as resilient? These contested questions with ideological, economic, and political overtones present wicked problems without turnkey answers or immediately recognizable solutions.

Since this is where the bulk of people will be living and where the greatest challenges will be in ensuring a safe and nutritious daily food supply, it makes sense to focus heavily on city regions [7].  This is beginning to happen, with a number of international organizations including FAO [8], IUFN [9], The Princes Charities International Sustainability Unit [10] and a host of others building a development agenda. However, moving from where we are to where we will be in 2030, 2040, or 2050 (or whatever year you wish to pick) looks very different across the world and within specific city regions.  In most of the developed world we have systematically (if unconsciously) dismantled regional food production, distribution, and processing infrastructure over the last century.”

The full piece can be found here

Agroecology and the people’s struggle for land and freedom

The Ecologist has just published this article by Blain Snipstal – a farmer from Maryland, USA and a member of Southeastern African American Farmers’ Organic Network (SAAFON).

“Blain talks about how important agroecology is to solve the world’s multiple crises, how it is more than just a way to grow food, but is actually a way to organize and a way to live and build movements. He also talks about the special role that youth have, as the new generation responsible for ensuring agroecology is not forgotten as agribusiness dominates the planet.”


He asks:

“What will be the future of our land? Will it be occupied by the industrial model of agribusiness – profit and exploitation? Or will it be for small-scale agroecology – feeding people and for collective and social forms of ownership and organisation?”

The article originally appeared in WhyHunger’s Agroecology: Putting Food Sovereignty Into Action publication which can be downloaded here