ORFC boss in plea for new entrant support

The UK government must offer more support to help aspiring new entrants into farming careers, or there will not be enough farmers to replace those retiring.

That’s the view of Robert Fraser, executive director of the Real Farming Trust and organiser of the Oxford Real Farming Conference (ORFC).

Mr Fraser met with Defra farming minister Mark Spencer at the conference on Thursday (4 January) when he told him his department must do more to support new entrants and budding farmers.

See also: Defra urged to make progress on new entrants scheme

“A lot more support for new entrants is critical,” said Mr Fraser.

“The government has tried with the New Entrants Support Scheme. It was about advice and helping them develop business plans, but there’s no funding.”

The Real Farming Trust, the charity that runs the ORFC, also has a social investment programme called Loans for Enlightened Agriculture Programme (Leap), which offers a mix of loans, grants and business advice to small-scale agroecological food and farming businesses in the UK.

But Mr Fraser said the charity is struggling to really provide new entrants with the loans they need as the loans system “just isn’t the right model”.

“I really do think the government needs to step in and provide some grants to support new entrants into the industry,” he added.

Small farms ‘under threat’

Mr Fraser said there is ongoing uncertainty around Defra’s Agricultural Transition Plan, which in particular has been damaging for small-scale livestock farmers in less favoured areas.

“The Sustainable Farming Incentive has been quite successful for arable farmers and for lowland livestock farmers,” he added.

“But for marginal and upland livestock farmers, it’s been very challenging. There has been a lot of uncertainty and the pace of change has been slow. There is a real crunch point happening right now in terms of the support needed to keep families farms viable.”

Mr Fraser said his biggest fear is that farmers may choose to intensify, rather than embracing the Environmental Land Management schemes on offer, to make up the shortfall in basic payments.

“I’m seeing it in my valley at the moment [in Herefordshire]. I’m seeing more ryegrass going down, more turnips,” he added.

“I know why they are doing that because that’s what they know how to do. But it’s a backward step for nature and for an agroecological transition.”   

A Defra spokesperson said: “We want to encourage more people into farming and last year’s New Entrants Support Pilot focused on how we can support those new to the industry to develop successful land-based businesses. We are currently reviewing the results of this pilot to inform our next steps.

“We are also supporting the establishment of a new professional body – the Institute for Agriculture and Horticulture – focused on promoting career development, ensuring we attract the bright new talent needed for a sustainable and productive agriculture sector.”

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