Research reveals ongoing challenges for next generation farmers

  • Frustration with regulation and concerns about the prospects for new entrants are among the key issues impacting next generation farmers, new research shows

The Route to Success survey, conducted by The National Federation of Young Farmers’ Clubs (NFYFC) and supported by Defra and Lantra, is NFYFC’s third community-wide survey in the last three years. The findings highlight continued anxiety around the future of farming and a need for more training and business support.

Finance and access to land continue to top the barriers facing new entrants with 72% of respondents thinking it will be difficult or impossible to move into farming.

Luke Cox, NFYFC’s Vice Chair of its YFC AGRI steering group, said:

“Young Farmers want to continue to produce Great British food, but year-on-year the survey indicates that new entrants can’t access the support required to break into the industry.

“Without this injection of new and exciting ideas, UK farming is going to miss out on a generation of talent and enthusiasm.”

When questioned about the new Defra environment schemes, 75% of respondents were either not sure or felt the schemes were not affecting them at all.

  • Only 10% of respondents felt they had a good understanding of emerging Defra land management schemes.
  • More people felt they were being positively than negatively affected.
  • More than 50% suggested that they understood in part about ecosystem services.

Respondents identified grants (68%), as the most important aspect of support required for delivering environmental schemes, with business support (55%), encouragement of new entrants (56%) and training (54%) also ranking highly.

Soil health and business management are the two areas, followed by financial management where respondents feel the greatest need for development.

The results indicate a need to get ‘back to basics’, with the fundamentals of healthy soils for food production a high priority for skills development. In response, Lantra will now review soil management training needs and explore what’s required for better understanding ecosystem services.

A series of focus groups with NFYFC members and next generation groups will be held this year.

Corrina Urquhart joined Lantra as Director of External Relations at the end of 2022 after moving from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

Corrina said: “Well managed and biologically active soils are the foundation of farming, representing the largest active carbon store after our oceans. Therefore, we are keen for further insights from young farmers to ensure our soils are fit for food production and future business opportunities.

“We know that high input costs have driven some farmers to look at different systems as a way to reduce nutrient and chemical needs and the focus groups will be a way to explore this best practice in a peer-to-peer setting.

“This partnership with NFYFC is exciting. It’s positive action to better manage the soil beneath our feet for food production and a healthy environment.”

NFYFC’s latest survey follows on from its 2020 research into young farmers’ experiences of the pandemic and the 2021 survey that focused on young farmers’ views on the future of land use. All three surveys show a continuity of findings in terms of a commitment to food production within progressive standards, a concern for food security and an acknowledgement of huge barriers for new entrants to access farming.

NFYFC hopes a cross-industry, collaborative approach to the issues raised will complement recent regional farm visits and discussions with farming businesses demonstrating financial and environmental viability.

NFYFC’s Agriculture and Rural Issues Manager Sarah Palmer said:

“Positive action from three years of surveying is welcome to address the concern raised for prospects and opportunities for next generation farmers and land managers.

“Despite current uncertainty and need for more information relating to the agricultural transition highlighted in research findings, a higher percentage of survey respondents felt they were positively rather than negatively affected by the new policy framework and recognised the need for additional skills and training.

“This research, combined with the learning from the recent Defra New Entrant pilots for the design of a future scheme, will provide much-needed support for next generation aspirations.”

The Route to Success survey was conducted earlier this year and surveyed 511 people, with the average age of respondents being 22 years old. Of those surveyed, 45% live or work in a farming household and 31% are students.