Know someone taking their first steps into farming? We take a look at a growing wealth of schemes and resources providing support for new entrant farmers.
With limited access to land and prohibitive start-up costs, times are tough for aspiring ecological farmers in the UK right now (Supporting the Next Generation of Farmers, 2019, Landworkers’ Alliance). Meanwhile, a third of all farm holders in the UK are over the typical retirement age of 65 years and the proportion of young people aged less than 35 years is around 3% (Agriculture in the UK, 2017). So , with a clear need, what’s out there when it comes to support for new entrant farmers?
In a partnership between the Landworkers’ Alliance (LWA), the Organic Growers Alliance, CSA Network and the Ecological Land Cooperative, applications are currently open until midnight on Sunday 18 October for a mentoring programme open to people across the UK who have been running a farming operation (or who have a decision making role in a farming operation) for less than five years. It aims to support those who are farming to organic principles/agroecologically across all different farming sectors and people from different parts of the country and sectors to apply.
The mentoring offered will offered over a nine month period, to include group mentoring in small groups and one-on-one mentoring, and also a group gathering and webinar sessions. As a pilot scheme with limited places, it is hoped long-term support for such a programme can be leveraged in order to be able to roll it out more widely.
Find full details of the scheme here.
Agroecology networks and farmer-to-farmer groups
Also in development by LWA is a UK wide agroecology training and exchange network linking farmers, growers, forests and land based workers practicing agroecological farming and land-management. The network aims to fill some of the gaps in training for agroecology, as well as to inspire innovation and best practice by peer-to-peer learning and exchange. Watch this space for developments.
Meanwhile, sprouting up across the UK between LWA members, farmer-to-farmer groups are simple to organise, with minimal running costs involved. Groups generally get together at the beginning of the year to decide who will be hosting sessions and which topics they will cover. The groups then meet on a monthly basis to explore the topics, share experiences and look at practical examples.
Traineeships and the Farmstart network
Again playing a pivotal role, LWA is working with members offering traineeships to improve the coherence of training provided and to group members in the same area together to provide collective delivery of theoretical elements to organise farm visits and exchanges. Through this they aim to improve the training experience and ensure that the quality of training is high.
On-farm traineeships, where new entrants work alongside an experienced farmer, grower or forester for one or two seasons, are an important entry route into land-based work and play the role of an informal apprenticeship for many people.
Further information will be available to LWA members as soon as available. Meanwhile, if you’re a farmer interested in offering a traineeship opportunity to aspiring entrant farmers, this is essential – and very interesting – reading: Future Farmers II.
The Farmstart network is another excellent example of support for new entrant farmers, currently running or in development across 10 sites in the UK. The scheme is designed to provide follow-on support for those who have already undertaken some form of training and on-farm work experience, providing time to test and develop plans for their own businesses in the longer-term.
Farmstarts provide an important opportunity for people to test their farming and growing ideas in a protected environment, whilst building the knowledge, skills, confidence and experience to progress to their own farm or market garden. By providing access to land, markets, equipment and training, farmstarts take much of the financial risk and stress away from new entrants in the crucial early phases, allowing them to focus on working out what kind of business suits them best.
Again, LWA have a comprehensive guide for those who might be in a position to set up and run an incubator farm site on their land, and, for those of you looking to connect with organisations offering Farmstart opportunities, do check the LWA forums.
Ecological Land Cooperative
No guide to support for new entrant farmers would be complete without mentioning the fantastic work of the Ecological Land Cooperative. Over the next two years, they’ll be creating four new ecological small farm sites and will have plots available. This means they are on the hunt for passionate landworkers and ecological entrepreneurs who are ready now, or will be ready soon, to build a growing business on an ELC plot. Read all about it here.
If it’s general information that would help at this stage, the Ecological Land Cooperative have also collated a comprehensive set of resources relating to everything from access to land to small-scale farm technological solutions here.
Finally, it would be rude not to mention a fantastic event about to kick off tomorrow, in the form of the Northern Real Farming Conference. A partnership between LESS, FoodFutures and the Oxford Real Farming Conference, it will be running virtually from 28 September until 10 October and you can still book tickets.
About the author
Sophie Paterson is a co-director at Lowimpact.org and NonCorporate.org, where she looks after promotion, social media, the blogs and more. A graduate of the School of Natural Building, she lives in Totnes, Devon, having previously spent a year living and volunteering on a nearby smallholding.
The views expressed in our blog are those of the author and not necessarily lowimpact.org's