FARMING MATTERS: Fewer families than ever farm the land

Copyright Heather Jan Brunt
Copyright Heather Jan Brunt
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There’s a bit of a misconception that farms remain intact and within the same families for many generations, but lots of things can actually prevent that from happening. Land which is compulsory purchased for development or for roads or railways can mean farmers having to move off their land and start up elsewhere.

Family dynamics can also play a part in whether a farm can continue in one family line or will have to be broken up due to multiple ownership down the generations. And if there is no one to take on a farm after the death of the farmer, that can also lead to changes.

Copyright Heather Jan Brunt

Copyright Heather Jan Brunt

Family farm ownership is in fact a fairly recent development, which started in earnest after World War I when land became available to buy at lower prices. This was due to the break up of the large estates,big social changes around government and voting, and a change in tax laws.

Prior to that it was almost all owned by the royal family, aristocracy, the Church of England, universities and National Trust. Most farmers were tenants to one of these institutions.

Today,the majority of land is still in the hands of the aforementioned, as well as new conglomerates, as there is a constant pressure to get big or get out of farming in order to take advantage of economies of scale and gain increased efficiency and lower production costs.

In 1939 Britain had almost half a million farms, the majority less than 40 hectacres,and employed almost 15 per cent of the population.

Since then Britain has lost over a third of its farms and the agricultural workforce has been in serious long-term decline. In 2000 there were 303,000 farms in the UK and an agricultural workforce of 557,000 (farmers and farm workers) - about 2 per cent of the UK workforce. Part of the loss of labour from the land is due to post war industrialisation of farming.

This pace of loss has accelerated in recent years and it looks increasingly lightly that small family farms will become rarer.