Steep decline in small family farms, report finds

Finding a successor to take over the farm, along with mounting economic pressures, has had a severe impact on small family farms in the UK.

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The number of small family farms in the UK has declined by almost half over the last three decades, a report has found.

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It revealed that farms have experienced rapid change, with succession being one of the biggest risks to the future of small farms. Older farmers may struggle to retire without a definite successor in place.

The report, conducted by the University of Exeter, was commissioned by the Prince’s Countryside Fund to determine the pace of change and to find ways farms might improve performance and attract new interest to the profession.

The report also found that small family farms were on “an agricultural treadmill” – facing huge demands and subject to mounting pressures, such as volatility in milk and meat prices and weak export trade.

However it did find that top performing small farms were just as efficient as many larger farms. The most profitable farms, it found, were those likely to have a successor, regardless of size.

It also found that many small family farms have been merged into surrounding larger farms.

Claire Saunders, director of The Prince’s Countryside Fund, said, “It has been heartening to learn from the report how innovative many small farms are. Support is needed now to encourage the next generation into farming. The Prince’s Countryside Fund is developing new initiatives to support these businesses and help those who live and work in the countryside.”

The Prince’s Countryside Fund, which earlier this month announced over £550,000 of funding for rural initiatives, is set to announce details of a new rural support programme at the end of July.

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Image: Getty