Wales “can’t stand by” and let council-owned farms be sold-off

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This week’s short debate was on the topic of council-owned farms and was led by Llyr Gruffydd AM (Plaid, North Wales).

“Significant sell-off” of land

Llyr Gruffydd said councils have sold over 1,000 hectares of land worth £28million over the last seven years. Council-owned farms were there to enable people without farming connections to enter agriculture and with the average age of Welsh farmers being over 60, the industry needs new blood or risks dying out.

“We mustn’t stand idly by watching this drip-drip-drip of council farms disappearing without any thought being given to what we’re losing. We should be turning every stone to support local councils to be able to resist the fire sale of such an important social, economic, environmental and cultural asset….The very least we can do is bring all the players together and consider how we can not only stem the loss of our public farm estate but turn it into an asset that delivers for our rural communities and wider society across Wales.”
– Llyr Gruffydd AM

Whilst being pragmatic enough to accept there may be instances where selling-off farms is the only viable option, there are incentives for councils to hold onto farms as, collectively, Welsh local authorities made a £2.7million surplus from farm rent last year.

He believes Trecadwgan farm in Pembrokeshire (pictured) should be an example councils can learn from – encouraging local communities to take over farms when the opportunity arises. He also supports establishing a community wealth fund to help buy farms for community ownership.

Number of council-owned smallholdings “hasn’t changed significantly”

Environment, Energy & Rural Affairs Minister, Lesley Griffiths (Lab, Wrexham), said that the latest figures showed there were 963 council-owned smallholdings, compared to 967 in 2009-10 – so there hasn’t been a significant drop. The thing that has changed is the amount of land in hectares – which has fallen by 23%.

“Finding a way into farming….can be a daunting prospect if you or your partner don’t come from a farming family background or if the family farm isn’t of sufficient scale to support a newcomer. Supporting young people to enter the industry and develop their careers is essential and something I’ve taken a personal interest in since I came into post. If we are going to introduce innovation, energy and enthusiasm into the sector and respond to future challenges, local authority farms are an important and limited route into agriculture.”
– Environment, Energy & Rural Affairs Minister, Lesley Griffiths

£6million has been spent on encouraging young farmers into the industry over the last two years – through a budget agreement with Plaid Cymru. The Venture programme was also set up to match farmers (particularly new entrants) with landowners who want to step back from full-time farming.

That said, the Minister believes it’s important to respect councils’ ability to develop their own policies without interference; collaboration, not compulsion, was key.

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