REIMAGINING COUNCIL FARMS: a vision for 2040

As the UK begins its greatest agricultural transition since the Second World War’s ‘Dig for Victory’, the need for this varied collection of council farm estates to be valued as a strategic national asset is more compelling and urgent than ever. These are challenging times but land, and how it is used, are now understood as vital for delivering important benefts for the entire population such as carbon storage, abundance of, and access to, nature, and clean, slow water. It is imperative that government at all levels harnesses the potential of its farmland to support a thriving and sustainable farming sector and to unlock these wider community benefts. For council farms, this will require a renewed sense of purpose and, we believe, modest but sustained investment. If central and local government can act together in this endeavour, then we have reason to hope that this irreplaceable asset can go on to be protected, enhanced and revitalised for the wider beneft of generations to come.

Reimagining council farms

FARM SUCCESSION FOR A SUTAINABLE RURAL TRANSITION

The Catalan Network for Nature Conservation (XCN) fosters nature conservation initiatives amongst civil society. These occur on a variety of contexts including farmland. Fostering farm transmissions with an agroecological perspective is a complementary strategy to contribute to nature conservation and rural regeneration. XCN supports the few local organisations that work on that line. This action is focused on “la Vall del Corb” (VdC), a rural area facing demographic decline, abandonment or intensification of farming activities, a lack of new entrants, and little farm diversification. Local actors are getting organised to revert these tendencies and revitalise VdC through a long-term project named “Territori de Vincles”.

Vall del Corb_XCN_Handout_HR

RESILIENT STRATEGIES FOR HAY MEADOWS CONSERVATION

The Catalan Network for Nature Conservation (XCN) is an organisation that brings together XX environmental entities and local authorities. It fosters nature conservation initiatives amongst civil society, by leading actions related to knowledge transfer, funding, advising, and policy. One of XCN’s members, the ecologist association IAEDEN is active in the conservation of hay meadows, which present high ecological and cultural values. These habitats have been historically maintained by livestock farmers but they are in serious danger of disappearing due to abandonment or intensification. IAEDEN engages with landowners to ensure the preservation or restoration of hay meadows and develops research and educational activities.

Haymeadows_XCN_handout_HR

SECURING LAND WITH RETIREMENT SAVINGS

At today’s prices, land purchases can hardly be amortized from the income generated by food production. Average land prices in Germany have risen 250% since 2009 to more than €26,000
per hectare. The Kulturland Cooperative (Kulturland eG) is a community of farmers and citizens who work to free agricultural land from speculation. It enables the purchase of land for ecologically operating farms that also consciously integrate themselves into their region and open up socially. For this purpose, Kulturland eG has developed a new form of collective ownership of agricultural land aimed at stewarding it across generations, a kind of modern “commons”. More than 1,000 people have bought shares in Kulturland eG, enabling 350 hectares of land to be secured for 23 farms.

Fundraising_KL_Handout_HR

MAKING COLLECTIVE LAND PURCHASE WORK FOR FARM SUCCESSION

De Landgenoten (DLg), Dutch for ‘fellow countrymen’, is a foundation and cooperative that aims to provide access to agricultural land for professional agro-ecological farmers in Flanders through collective land purchasing. Access to land is indeed one of the main thresholds for farmers to start, secure, expand or transfer a farm. In Flanders prices have risen by 28.7% between 2015 and 2019 with a price per hectare averaging €63,000. Acquiring land becomes harder for young farmers because increasing amounts of capital are needed and many owners are reluctant to grant new leases.

Farm Succession_DLg_Handout HR

CREATING A TERRITORIAL ‘CITIZEN’ FARM

The Terre de Liens (TDL) Auvergne association works to preserve and provide access to agricultural lands to a new generation of farmers. Operating around the ClermontFerrand metropolis, a highly pressured peri-urban environment, TDL Auvergne has difficulty finding land suiting the demands of aspiring farmers for small, irrigable, and accessible plots. Since most farms in the area are large-scale monocultures, the association imagined as an alternative solution to acquire a large holding, restructure, and rehabilitate it to allow the establishment of several small farmers. In 2017, an unhoped-for opportunity materialised as a family of five heirs approached TDL Auvergne to transfer a large land plot (about 80 ha located on the “Sarliève” periurban plain). Part of the land would be donated and the other part sold to TDL.

Farm restructuring_TDL_Handout_HR

INNOVATIVE OWNERSHIP OF FARM BUILDINGS

Access to land organisations that acquire (or accept donations of) farms face the challenge of how to be “good owners” towards their tenants. While good stewardship of land can be relatively easy—using a long-term contract with good requirements concerning land use—good stewardship of buildings requires much more continuous involvement. Even in a very liberal tenancy contract, the owner remains responsible for very detailed questions with regard to maintenance and changes to the building. Many access to land organisations have made the experience that building maintenance requires lots of time, which in some cases can only be financed by higher lease payments, while farmers oftentimes remain unsatisfied with the outcome, wishing to have more freedom to maintain and redesign their farm buildings.

Farm restructuring_TDL_Handout_HR

REIMAGINING COUNCIL FARMLAND

Shared Assets works to create a socially just future through practical projects that build new relationships between people and the land. We see council farmland as a valuable but at risk public asset. Previous research we were involved in found that over 84,000 hectares of ‘county farm’ land held by local councils in the UK has been sold off over the past 40 years, and the approximately 80,000 hectares of this land that remains is threatened by the effects of privatisation and public budget cuts. If preserved, this asset and other council farmland could help meet the groundswell of interest in small-scale agroecological growing farming in England, as well as helping to address a range of other socio-economic and environmental issues.

County Farms_Shared Assets_Handout HR (1)

STEWARDING COMMONS FOR NEW GENERATIONS

With 98% of farms using less than 10 hectares of land, Romania is truly a peasant farming country. One of the most valuable and important assets that small-scale farmers have in Romania are the commons. Common pastures allow peasants to raise animals such as sheep, cattle, and goats without having to purchase extra land. This grazing land may be owned by public bodies, private  organisations or individuals, but is characterised by multiple grazing rights. Although no exact figures on the distribution of common pastures are available, a rough approximation suggests that over half of the 3.4 million ha of permanent pastures in Romania can be considered common land.

Commons_ER_handout_HR

MONITORING BIODIVERSITY ON FARMS

Terre de Liens (TDL) is a non-profit organisation working to preserve agricultural lands and support a new generation of farmers. It owns over 250 farms, over 6000 ha, across France. TDL favours the settlement of new entrants practicing organic agriculture on these farms, renting the land through a special type of long-term farm tenancy contracts called “Environmental Rural Leases” (ERLs). These include clauses to promote environmentally friendly agricultural practices. Most often, TDL includes organic practices and the maintenance of existing agroecological infrastructures (hedges, ponds..) in the ERLs. Other clauses may be included in concertation with farmers and in compliance with the law (out of 16 possible clauses pre-defined by law).

Biodiversity_TDL_Handout_HR

CREATING A COMMUNITY LAND TRUST

In Romania, transfer of land property is difficult for several reasons: land fragmentation is very high (average plot size of 0.45 hectares); there is a lack of land registration in the official cadastral system (only about 59% of land registered in 2021), and land is also subject to increasing concentration and even land grabbing. According to the Romanian National Institute of Statistics, between 2002-2010, 150.000 small farms disappeared while large farming increased by 3%. A total of 12,000 farms over 100 hectares, representing 0.3% of Romanian holdings, control 34% of the country’s utilized agricultural area. In addition to these important land thresholds, the farming population is rapidly aging—66.4% of peasants over 55 years old and only 7.3% under 35—and low retirement pensions (€280 on average in 2020) incite older farmers to sell their land to the highest bidder instead of passing it on to a family member. This further reinforces the concentration tendency and lack of generational renewal.

ALPA_ER_Handout_HR

ArticlesNew generations blog
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Presentations WP6 Expert meeting 15th October 2020 Download