Almost half of young farmers (46 per cent) who took part in a country-wide consultation said they wanted support payments to continue for a limited time only, with many saying that existing landowners who have control of farmland and an income from direct subsidies are proving to be a stubborn barrier to young people looking to make their breakthrough.
A report by the National Federation of Young Farmers’ Clubs (NFYFC) on the findings of its online survey, states: “Many of these young farmers do not expect to be given subsidies, but they recognise the unfairness of a system which is loaded against them. Existing farmers are provided with support, but those at the foot of the ladder are not.”
The most popular choice for young farmers - the view held by 35 per cent of those who responded to the survey - was to reduce or remove the current area-based basic subsidy payments that the Government administers from the European Union, and instead support farmers through government grants or loans for farm business investments.
Lynsey Martin, vice chairman of the NFYFC, said: “If the subsidy system is supposed to help farming become more dynamic, to contribute public goods and benefits, then it might do this better if it were not so inextricably tied to land ownership but instead addressed the business needs of established farmers and new entrants alike.”
The future of farm subsidies is uncertain. The Government has promised to honour EU payments up until 2020 even though Britain is expected to have formally exited EU membership by then, but policy makers have yet to propose what support will exist afterwards.
Sam Dilcock, agricultural and rural issues chairman at the NFYFC, wants the Government to use Brexit as a chance to rethink how young people can be supported in order to break into the industry.
The 29-year-old who works as a self-employed agricultural contractor based in Knottingley near Wakefield, said: “Getting started in farming has many challenges. We have now got the Land Partnerships Service, to help bring together farmers and land with new entrants and business ideas, which is great. But we need to look at short- and long-term finance too - which are especially big barriers to new entrants.”
Mr Dilcock said the Government should move away from direct subsidies which, in some cases he said, enables less forward-thinking and unproductive farmers to continue until later life.
Instead, financial support for the industry should take the form of investment packages that would fund “tangible assets” like machinery that would give younger farmers the start up capital they need to compete financially with older farmers.
Mr Dilcock, who aspires to become a tenant farmer but said he was deterred by high rents and short-term contracts, added: “There is a fantastic opportunity after Brexit to redesign the landscape of British agriculture.
“I think subsidies will get less and less and we need to get into a mind set of investing in agriculture instead - in livestock, crops, machinery and tangible assets.”
The NFYFC’s consultation, ‘Considerations for a Future British Agricultural Policy’, gathered views from 184 young people involved in farming over the summer following the decision for Britain to leave the EU.
Its survey results will now be shared with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in order for young people’s views to be considered as part of the Government’s forthcoming proposals for a comprehensive post-Brexit British agricultural policy.
YOUNG NEED ACCESS TO FUNDS
Young people believe there are a number of potential barriers to developing their agricultural careers.
Asked in the NFYFC’s survey what was most important in the next five years of their farm business careers, 39 per cent said finance for farm investments, 29 per cent said it was availability of farmland or farm buildings and 21 per cent stated availability of working capital.
Only 24 per cent said the most useful support to build their own businesses was higher levels of subsidy, or tax breaks, to established farmers partnering with young farmers.
Loans and small grants were preferred options.