A combination of new measures to assist young people trying to break into farming – and older ones seeking to retire – are urgently needed, so delegates at the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee forum heard.
Joris Baecke, president of CEJA (the European Young Farmers group), pointed out that across member states more than 30% of farmers are over 65, while less than 6% are under 35. “The generational mix is alarming,” he said.
“Who is going to deliver all the important things society requires – such as providing food, maintaining rural areas, providing biodiversity and mitigating climate change – if it’s not the next generation of farmers?
“All over Europe, there are young people who are ambitious, passionate and see opportunities – but there are challenges to them getting started,” he said.
Installation grants and subsidised loans could play a part in combatting this, he said.
Meurig Raymond, deputy president of the NFU, called on the coalition government to work with the banking fraternity in a bid to open doors to would-be farmers.
He highlighted the high working capital demands of new tenants, suggesting some needed £150,000-£200,000 for a start-up business.
Young people are often offered money at 5-7% over base rate, but struggle to borrow it on these terms, he pointed out. “It puts them at a disadvantage before they’ve started. Don’t destroy their ambition. They have the skills and the experience, but they need money at a competitive rate if they’re to have an opportunity. ”
The government should, he said, consider “underwriting” a scheme giving young people who have “enthusiasm, knowledge and the right skills base” access to this capital.
In tandem with this, a retirement scheme was needed, allowing older individuals to leave the industry with dignity, added Mr Raymond.
“There are people locked into the system because they can’t afford to retire – especially on the west side of the country if they’re under TB restrictions and can’t afford to sell their livestock.”
There is also an onus on big landlords to do more. Some – like the Duchy of Cornwall and the Crown do this well – but there is more others could do, he said.
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