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Policy Listening Session

At the Start to Farm workshop hosted by farming Connect, the Newbie project put on a “Policy listening session”. The goal of the 1-hour session was to create a space for dialogue between policy makers (and policy influencers) and new entrant farmer constituencies. To create opportunities for new entrants to surface their policy-oriented concerns and allow for policy makers communicate what they see as key policy opportunities.
In the workshop, a panel of policy makers or policy representatives from the UK and an audience of new entrants and other stakeholders were joined in conversation by a facilitator. The facilitator led the group in an interactive workshop to generate dialogue on new entrant policy dynamics. First, participants were asked to describe key new entrant challenges as they saw them while the facilitator grouped these challenges into key themes. Then, participants were asked to brainstorm policy interventions for the problems introduced by the larger group. Policy makers observed and provided context clarification where appropriate.
In addition to this summary, there was a video documenting one of the sessions uploaded to Youtube by Farming Connect

Policy / new entrant representatives present at the workshop

  1. Richard Evans, Welsh Government Agri Policy
  2. Adam Payne, Land Workers Alliance
  3. John McAllister, Land Mobility Scheme Northern Ireland
  4. Teleri Fielden, Llyndy Isaf Scholarship

Summary

A complete list of the new entrant challenges and policy interventions offered by the participants can be found as an appendix. The results clearly show a wide range of familiar and novel challenges for new entrant farmers. While there 2was certainly no “consensus” about what should be the key priorities of governments, the emotional weight of desiring to farm (having the skills and passion) but being unable to do so while earning a livelihood was palpable. Moreover, a number of seemingly unique and interesting policy needs were raised. From newbie’s perspective a few key policy needs that were expressed are worth reflecting on in more details

Price Parity

Parity of farm prices is an old idea, but it manifested itself in the policy session. One of the key challenges discussed was a lack of access to markets. Moreover, participants offered, that the rang of possible prices for the end product were simply too low to support their family. The only direction they saw was to accrue more debt and increase their operation size. This is usually the solution offered by experts, when farm businesses are facing poor margins: examine places where the business is inefficient and increase productivity per unit of land or labour. However, participants in the session described at how the price of inputs and other costs of production rose steadily, while their buyers could keep prices flat. With this dynamic in mind, participants called for some form of price guarantee, price floor or mechanism to provide farmer more value for their products. In other words, price parity.

Professionalising agriculture

There was an interesting discussion about the extent to which agriculture should be made more of a “professional” qualified industry. Some opinion suggested that new entrants already had the skills to farm, but needed policy interventions to gain start-up capital or market security. Others suggested that governments would be more likely to support new entrants if they had acquired a higher level of business management qualifications or an agriculture degree. Would encouraging more enrolment in qualified agricultural programs make new entrants more readily connected to government support programs? Or would stifle creativity in the sector and exclude some farmers from support?

Support for land improvements

An interesting conversation emerged on where the best place for support was to be located. While most of the discussion revolved around to get more support for new entrants, a discussion emerged around ways to support landowners so that they (1) were more likely to rent land to new entrants and (2) had the infrastructure appropriate to entice new entrants. The idea here was that perhaps landowners should get government support to improve their land holdings so that some of the start up costs are reduced. Now, both new entrant and landowner constituencies may be appeased, for the landowner gets a direct support to improve the quality of their holding and the new entrant enters a farm property with up-to date infrastructure of a farm business. This was related to a key theme of housing for rural mobility.

Housing

The lack of decent housing options came up in many discussions. In one aspect, there simply was not enough housing stock available near the areas were land was “available” for new farm businesses. Second, multiple planning authorities placed development restrictions on agricultural land, prohibiting the potential for new housing stock. While participants recognized the goal of housing restrictions to protect agricultural land, there was consensus that this was a troubling tension between conflicting policy goals.

Differences between 1st time farmers and successors

In conversations about new entrant farmers, successors and 1st generation farmers are often lumped together. There was great discussion about the differences between these two groups and how policies aimed at supporting new entrants often didn’t recognize the differences. Managing a complicated succession is a different problem than solving the challenges associated with a capital intensive start-up phase. To make improved new entrant policies, these two groups must be viewed in their appropriate context.

Appendix: Recorded input from discussion

During the facilitation, notetakers summarized contributions to (1) key challenges they faced as new entrants and (2) what policy needs or interventions they would like to see.

KEY NEW ENTRANT CHALLENGES

Access to Land:
  • Land goes to the “first son” (social norm) and thus there is “no way in” to the turnover of land.
  • No land to put “passion” to work (mismatch of land vision and land quality/ availability.
  • Mobility is assumed bot not a given. Large commute times disincentivize some land opportunities.
  • Even if funding is available, the time lag between grant payout and startup costs make the land access barrier too difficult.
  • 1st generation farmers should be prioritized over successors.
  • Many successors inherit debt burdens and outcomes of past decisions.
Training and mentoring:
  • Rural Payments system is complex and hard to navigate.
  • The social community of farming is hard to enter from outside.
  • Seems to be farmers responsibility to ensure rural renewal. Why isn’t it the governments?
  • There are opportunities, but farmers aren’t/can’t take them do to many reasons like lack of mobility.
  • Mental health burden of agri decision making.
  • Agrisgôp is a good example of a program that is available.
  • If not from a farm background, it is difficult to appear as “credible”.
Land Use Planning:
  • A lack of housing access in rural areas.

  • The prevention of building on ag land has the adverse effect of preventing mobility.

  • Many small holdings require the same burden of overcoming development permissions.

  • Access to Capital:

  • The age barriers to capital grants (new entrant schemes) seem arbitrary.

Access to markets:
  • Farming provides too volatile an income to support a family year round.

  • The end price of the product is simply too low to support a livelihood.

  • Diversification is always assumed as simple, but is complicated.

  • Supermarket monopolies control price and distribution.

  • Should be able to bank on high welfare standards.

  • Entry is very capital intensive.

  • There is a burden to increase efficiency in order to “prove your case”.

  • Farmers don’t get to decide what is “viable”, only buyers do.

Uncategorized:
  • New entrants lack a voice in policy discussions. How to establish a powerful voice?
  • Paperwork burdens.
POLICY NEEDS / INTERVENTIONS
  • Creation of a national land bank in which 2% of large farm sales are allocated for new entrant asset acquisition support.
  • Professionalize agriculture by offering grants post university.
  • Wales appears to a be a leader in enabling policy environments and farm mentoring.
  • Tenancy arrangements should be reviewed.
  • Compulsory programming to get grant funding.
  • Improve announcement / dissemination of grant schemes.
  • Design programs based off of feedback from new entrant needs.
  • Design programs for those that come from both succession vs non succession backgrounds -> different needs.
  • Financial security in farming -> otherwise no desire to enter (parity).
  • Landowners might need investment to attract new entrants. For example, housing or infrastructure improvements.
  • Introduce formal qualifications and top-up schemes.
  • Identify, aggregate, and disseminate existing resources.
  • Provide a robust land matching service.
  • Increase apprenticeship schemes.
  • Create grant schemes that are flexible (many kinds of new entrants and farming types) and accountable. For example what if I have land but not knowledge or I have knowledge but not land? The intervention would be different.
  • Basic payment schemes have too large a limit to receive funds.
  • Link farm payments to outcomes (public good) not to lands.
  • Consider healthy food a public good.
  • The tax code should incentivize long term leasing.
  • Create a fund for interest free loans for new entrants.
  • Advice on how to navigate regulatory compliance.
  • Need policies that make operations profitable, like a price guarantee.
  • Some agricultural land has production limits guided by recreational visions (urban users dictating rural policy).
  • Challenge big agribusiness to foster short supply chains.

POLICY SUBMISSION VIA NOTECARD

Beside the large group discussion brainstorming, participants were asked to write two policy ideas of policy targets that would help address the new entrant challenges discussed. They were collected after the workshop:
Lower rent and lease costs Increase land available
Farming should open the door to everyone who wants to do it and be easy to access
Policy to influence the markets – i.e. promote short, circular supply chains to benefit local products and link communities to their food production: - sustainability (ecological) element too
I’d like new entrant 1st generation farmers to get more individual help in the RPW finance / grant application system. It’s hard enough to find the land to farm, but to hit a financial barrier makes the task of start ups 10x more difficult A few recurring themes here: flexibility of the grant schemes, means testing.
Direct grants to the right people, flexibility in any support system
A policy that supports all forms of new entrants (flexibility)
Changes to land leasing: make better terms for the new entrant

Apprenticeship scheme Promotion of farming as a viable career
Capital costs for set up Planning permission to live on a farm
Mentoring for a new entrant pack
Access to information in order to make sense of existing policies
Access to land for start up farming More profits to farmers
More support for the British / Welsh produce. For example, I want to see Welsh lamb not NZ Better prices for new entrants
Elevate importance of Welsh and local food Make availability of grants more obvious
Double the land subsidy if you partner with a farmer under 40
Simplified Access to Farming Connect combined with a campaign to reach farmers who don’t attend meetings so that MOST farmers get a fair chance to access the layers, then you can add complication Unbelievably F.C has failed over many years to CONNECT their messages and offers o a great many farmers
Capital grants for start up Planning reform to live on land (housing)
More support targeted at new entrants
Create a get out of farming scheme
Bring farming into the future Sustainable farming and ventures in that sector, land availability and sharing
Young entrants database with annual meetings and online forum

Key contacts

Lee-Ann Sutherland    Adam Calo

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog post are the views of the author, and not an official position of the institute or funder.

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The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.