New evidence collected on prospects for small farms

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University of Exeter experts would like to hear from those who run small family farms as they research the contribution these businesses make to the UK’s agriculture industry.

The Prince’s Countryside Fund has commissioned academics at the University to undertake a study on the performance and prospects for the small farm sector in the UK.

“We have commissioned this research as a key outcome from our Summit with our Patron HRH The Prince of Wales last October. The future viability of small family farms is a key factor in the sustainability of our rural communities. Through our grant programme and The Prince’s Dairy Initiative we are aware of the difficulties that many businesses are experiencing and the intention of this research is to offer practical recommendations to ensure their longer-term profitability and future.”

Claire Saunders, Director of The Prince’s Countryside Fund

Researchers want to know what small farms contribute to the agricultural sector, the rural economy and communities and the countryside.

The research, carried out by the Land, Environment, Economics and Policy Institute (LEEP), which now incorporates the University’s Centre for Rural Policy Research, will examine how a viable and vibrant small farm sector can be encouraged and supported.

As part of this work the researchers would like small farmers and other stakeholders to submit evidence answering these questions:

What do small farms contribute to the agricultural sector, the rural economy and communities, and the countryside which is distinctive and important in comparison to larger farms?

How might a viable and vibrant small farm sector be encouraged and supported? This might include: the use of CAP measures, the operation of supply chains, taxation rules, tenure legislation, access to finance, and practices around succession and new entrants.

How might small farmers improve performance and viability through, for example, increased efficiency, added value, diversification, and co-operation?

Evidence should be submitted by 20th April. The researchers would also be grateful to receive any evidence detailing examples of good practice where small farm businesses have thrived and where lessons might be learned for the sector as whole.

Claire Saunders, Director of The Prince’s Countryside Fund said: “We have commissioned this research as a key outcome from our Summit with our Patron HRH The Prince of Wales last October. The future viability of small family farms is a key factor in the sustainability of our rural communities. Through our grant programme and The Prince’s Dairy Initiative we are aware of the difficulties that many businesses are experiencing and the intention of this research is to offer practical recommendations to ensure their longer-term profitability and future.”

Professor Matt Lobley, Associate Professor in Rural Resource Management and a Director of the Land, Environment, Economics and Policy Institute said: “Despite a powerful attachment to the idea of the small family farm and much sympathy for their plight, there has been very little contemporary research on small farms in the UK. We are keen to hear from those who run small farms who are doing well. This will help us understand if there are lessons which may be learned for the sector as a whole.”

Professor Michael Winter, Professor of Land Economy and Society and a Director of the Land, Environment, Economics and Policy Institute at the University of Exeter, said: “Small family farms can be amongst the best performing farm businesses but many face a range of challenges. Our call for evidence is designed to elicit information on the distinctive contribution small family farms make to the countryside of the UK and to identify ways in which small farmers might improve farm performance and viability.”

To find out more please visit http://socialsciences.exeter.ac.uk/leep/newsandevents/news/articles/theviabilityoftheuksmallf.html.