How a national crisis of family-owned farms presents an opportunity for a new generation of community owners
Across the UK around 120,000 family-owned businesses are planning to retire or transfer ownership over the next few years (ONS), but two-thirds of these owners still do not have a succession plan. With commercial and policy pressure on UK land use and food production at an unprecedented level, there is a significant threat to current land use, and it is already undermining local and national food resilience through pushing our economy towards higher imports and lower employment.
New Models for Family Farm Succession, a new project from a consortium led by Stir to Action and Shared Assets, will tackle this by working with family farm owners and community food initiatives to explore how family farmland can be part of long-term efforts to create more food security in the UK, through selling or transferring to local co-operatives.
The pilot will support a new approach to succession planning by focusing on the social, cultural, and financial considerations for both family farmers and community food initiatives through a series of workshops, options reports, and new financial models for land transfer.
The pilot is an effort to transform the current financial marketplace and build more cultural awareness within the family farm market, and to also follow pioneers such as Fordhall in Shropshire and Stockwood in Worcestershire, where family farmland has been saved through thousands of community investors.
The value of family farms is clear within our national economy and food supply, and this project will focus on ensuring financial security for retiring farmers and long-term access to farm land for community food initiatives. With a new rush to acquire land for non-farming initiatives – such as carbon offsetting and private rewilding – this pilot will support the farming community to secure a future for food production in the UK.
Olivia Oldham, of project funder Farming the Future, said “It is increasingly clear that land is at the heart of the crises we face—from industrial food production and environmental degradation, to social injustice and even ill-health and wellbeing. But, if we can collectively reimagine our relationship with it, land can also be the solution. This project is an exciting exploration of what the future of our rural landscape might look like, and practical mechanisms for getting there that take care of retiring family farmers and provide new opportunities for communities to access farmland for the common good.”
We’re currently engaging family farm owners who are interested in retaining farmland in food production, open to a patient process of selling to a community buyer, and are ready to start succession planning over the next year.
Additionally, as part of this project we are planning to engage community groups and organisations who either: (a) have begun farming / growing food, and have been through the process of acquiring land; or (b) are interested to explore the potential of buying family farm land, in order to begin farming / growing food.