Carter Jonas
Carter Jonas

Survey underlines challenge for non-farming entrants

In 2013/14, DEFRA’s annual Farm Business Survey (FBS) began to collect data about farm business succession arrangements from a sample of around 1,900 farmers on the financial position and physical and economic performance of farm businesses in England.

The data is then weighted to represent the whole population of farm businesses that have an output of at least 25,000 Euros per annum. There are about 58,000 such businesses in England. The key findings of this first survey on succession are:

- Just over a third (37%) of farm businesses had a nominated successor and unsurprisingly the vast majority of these businesses will continue within the family. It is also of note that less than 3% of those businesses that have nominated a successor were considering nominating someone from outside the family.

- Of the other businesses that responded, 29% said it was too early in family or business circumstances to answer the question as to who would become the nominated successor. This response was most common for farmers under 40 years of age which can hardly be surprising in that such individuals will most likely have only just succeeded their own parent.

- A further 27% of farm businesses said they had no nominated successor. This response was most likely for spare and part time farms and for sole traders.

- Only 6% of the nominated successors would be new to farming.

This latter finding is perhaps the most telling and one that politicians and farm leaders may need to heed. Whenever there are talks where government ministers or policy makers are present, there always seems to be an emphasis on how to get “new entrants” into farming.

Although it is perfectly possible for college leavers to become farm workers or farm managers, the chances of a person who does not come from a farming background becoming a full time “farmer” in their own right is slim. The survey results bear this out.

It’s not that there is no chance of a new entrant developing a career in agriculture, but actually building up an owner-occupied or even tenanted farming business is very difficult unless an individual has the resources of an existing farming business behind them or access to a lot of capital from outside farming.

Perhaps the emphasis should be more on how to ensure the next generation of successors to existing farming businesses are best trained and equipped to tackle the economic challenges that lie ahead, rather than encouraging new entrants to enter a world where in reality the opportunities in mainstream farming are shrinking rather than expanding.

James Stephen

James Stephen


James is a partner who heads up Carter Jonas’ South West rural operation, managing the teams in the four offices of Marlborough, Bath, Taunton and Truro.  He primarily works out of the Taun...

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