Fears for young as council farms are sold off

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THEY were created in the aftermath of the Second World War to help produce more food, create more farmers and help stem the tide of people leaving the countryside for the towns and cities.

County council farms were funded by central Government following the Agriculture Act of 1947 to make it the statutory duty of every authority to support and help people to become farmers on their own account.

However in recent times this proud act of governance has been slowly eroded. Farms are either sold to developers or landowners, or amalgamated together to form larger holdings.

In may cases county council farm tenants go on to buy their farm from the council, shortening the supply.

This comes despite the increasing interest in farming and food production in young people. After years of struggling to recruit new entrants, British agriculture is slowly enjoying a renaissance of interest from young people, wise to the fact that food production will be one of the key growth areas in coming years.

Both of Yorkshire’s agricultural colleges are seeing ever increasing numbers of people applying to them each year.

However the lack of available land remains the key barrier to new entrants.

Dorothy Fairburn, Yorkshire regional director of the Country Land and Business Association in Yorkshire said: “It is very tough to get into farming.

“There are two issue here. One is county councils selling them off to release funds, reducing the number they have available to let. The second that these farms were never meant to permanent farms – they are starter farms. However there are just not the opportunities for people to move on.

“We need changes in legislation and the tax system. At the moment there is a lot of incentive for landlord to farm land themselves to safeguard entitlements.”

The National Farmers’ Union regional director for the North-East, Barney Kay, said that there was far greater optimism in the farming regarding new entrants but added “the fact remains that it is difficult for people to get into farming.

“It is perhaps understandable that in the current economic climate that councils would look to cash in, albeit in a way that does not necessarily fit in with what we would like.”

Mr Kay however said that increasingly young people were having to be resourceful in finding land to work on and were instead looking at alternatives such as apprenticeships, mentoring schemes and encouraging larger land owners to offer starter tenancies to “facilitate new people into the industry”.

“The sell-off of county council farms has been a process going on for certainly the last 10-15 years. Our members who have the opportunity to buy a county council farm look upon it is a fantastic opportunity. It is not the only route into farming.”

The issue is one that George Dunn from Tenant Farmers’ Association (TFA) has been campaigning on for many years.

“Farms that are owned by local authorities are there to provide an entry mechanism into the industry,” he said. “When we go to shows like the Great Yorkshire Show we are inundated with young people at our stand – something we just did not see 10 years ago. Now we have a greater influx and the problem is on the supply side, in that there are just not enough opportunities.”

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