AN INITIATIVE designed to attract new people into farming and help producers who want to retire has been unveiled by government adviser Donald Curry.

Details of the industry-led initiative were outlined by Sir Donald, architect of DEFRA‘s strategy for sustainable farming and food, on the opening day of Smithfield Show in London on Thurs (Dec 2).

The Fresh Start programme, which has already won the backing of Prince Charles, aims to create opportunities for new farmers and help the industry restructure.

The scheme has been developed because of concern about the rising average age of farmers. DEFRA research suggests that a quarter of all businesses have a decision maker over 65 years of age.

As part of the initiative, a booklet has been produced that encourages producers to think about how they will respond once the Single Payment Scheme starts in Jan 2005.

The options put forward include expanding their businesses, diversifying into other activities or even leaving the industry.

A second element of the scheme is a guide which directs new entrants to sources of advice and suggests different farming arrangements that might help them get a foot on the farming ladder.

The final strand of the programme is retirement advice which farmers will be able to access through consultants, bankers and accountants, who will all be sent information packs by DEFRA.

A matchmaking service for new entrants and people who want to scale down, and a mentoring scheme for young people are also planned.

“CAP reform is a wake-up call for all farmers,” Sir Donald told FW. “We‘ve had an exodus of young people from farms because they haven‘t found it very attractive. We really do need to stimulate interest in farming as a career.”

Cornwall has been chosen to pilot the framework of measures, including the mentoring scheme. The pilot will be run by the Cornwall Agricultural Council and start in January 2005.

“Nothing like this has ever been tried before,” said project co-ordinator Charlotte Woodford.

“For the first time we have devised a complete package that aims to address the long-term structural issues facing the agricultural and land-based industries.

“Fresh Start will play a vital role in helping the industry restructure and face the challenges of the future, whether it’s to help people move in, on or out of the industry.”

The bodies involved in the development of Fresh Start include DEFRA, Barclays, NFU, Country Land and Business Association, Tenant Farmers Association, Farmers Club, National Federation of Young Farmers Clubs, Andersons and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.