By Isabel Davies

FARMERS WHO diversify to boost their incomes find their efforts hampered by policy barriers and regulatory obstacles, according to a new report.

How Farming is Meeting the Challenge of Sustainability, by sustainable development charity Forum for the Future, is based on the experiences of 10 farm businesses between 2002 and 2004.

The study found that farms are responding to the on-going agricultural crisis with entrepreneurial activity that generates new income, creates jobs and protects the environment.

But the report also describes how initiatives are curtailed by compliance and regulatory costs. It also acknowledges that many farmers feel they simply do not have the time or resources to consider diversifying.

“The need to lighten the regulatory load might sound a familiar lament, but the Forum Farm Network has demonstrated that existing barriers really do discourage sustainable entrepreneurship,” concludes the report.

“Sensible thresholds and appropriate exemptions are needed, for instance in on-farm composting and biodiesel production from waste oil.”

The report says that although the government claims to support a UK biofuels industry, legislation surrounding its production can be prohibitively expensive for small operators. It suggests there should be exemptions from waste management licensing controls for smaller-scale biofuels processors.

The report points out that a similar situation exists for producers with farm composting enterprises.

REGULATION

It says regulation intended to protect the environment is making it hard for farms to keep their composting operations financially viable.

In a foreword to the report, government adviser Donald Curry said businesses had to be less reliant on commodity production.

“These farmers and landowners have realised that business as usual” is no longer enough. Their actions show that a sustainable future can become a reality, but it does involve change,” said Sir Donald.

“There is a lot of encouraging activity taking place and I see many great examples of innovation and enterprise throughout the country. Now is the time for these to be populated throughout and become the norm.”

On-farm composting, p48

isabel.davies@rbi.co.uk