ALMOST A QUARTER of all farm businesses have a decision maker who is over 65, according to a telephone survey of producers carried out by DEFRA.

Donald Curry, the government‘s main adviser on farming, revealed the figure during a seminar at the Royal Show on how to get more new entrants into farming.

Sir Donald said it appeared, from research commissioned by DEFRA, that the UK farming did have an ageing farming population.

“In England the proportion of farmers that are over 55 is 52% and 23% of all farm businesses include a decision maker 65 or over,” he said.

“Only 5% of decision makers are under 35 and that is significantly lower than elsewhere. The figure is 8% in the rest of the EU.”

Sir Donald said 2005 was going to be a watershed and farmers would be required to re-evaluate their businesses.

“For some the challenge of 2005 will be to ask themselves is it appropriate I should continue farming, and should I be looking for ways to bring a new person in,” he said.

He explained that the implementation group overseeing the delivery of the strategy for farming and food had been discussing possible ways to help new entrants.

These measures include offering advice and training, a mentoring scheme and the introduction of a matching service for new entrants and farmers who want to retire.

DEFRA was already working on a package of advice for people who want to get out of the industry, he added.

Speaking as a member of the panel, Meurig Raymond, vice-president of the NFU, said that CAP reform could make it easier for new entrants.

“I think decoupling will release land and create opportunities, as not as much capital will be needed by new entrants,” he said.

“But I believe government has to look seriously at a retirement package. There are many people who want to move on with dignity at the moment.”

Neil Cameron, chairman of the National Federation of Young Farmers Clubs, said there were many different ways young people could be brought into farming.

On the management side there were options such as share farming or contract arrangements but new entrants were also needed as employees, he reminded.

“I think we need to look at what we are offering people who want to come in as herdsmen or a tractor driver.

“We need to look at how we house people, what we pay them and working hours.”