New relationships between landowners, land agents and new entrants; is this what Post-Brexit agricultural policy needs?

Wildflower Meadows at Huxhams Cross, Devon

Finding land for growing local food, nature restoration and carbon capture is a huge challenge, yet is vital to feeding the nation. At the Oxford Real Farming Conference in January we heard from a panel of practitioners who are pioneering new solutions in the south west of England. The Apricot Centre – Huxhams Cross Farm has opened up an opportunity to trial an innovative approach, with a tenancy on land owned by the local Exeter Diocese.

This Farm has already demonstrated their capacity to improve land and the benefits of biodynamic and agroecological farming for carbon sequestration, biodiversity regeneration and energy-efficient, human-scale farming on its own (BD Land Trust) land. In turn, this new tenancy will increase their capacity and help the Diocese to reduce its properties’ carbon footprint. This workshop explored how the model is being trialled, and the terms required for such tenancies to be successfully rolled out with other large landowners.

There was discussion on carbon footprint accounting, and questions raised around whether farmers should trade their carbon, on planning complications and tenancy agreements. Discussion centred around the common set of institutional barriers new entrants face finding land: short term tenancy arrangements, lack of capital, and relative skill level to manage a whole farm and scale up projects, were just a few examples raised.

Building on the successes of upgrading damaged soils and a nature-damaged landscape, Huxhams Cross Farm are trialling an agroecological tenancy on 25 acres on Diocesan owned (church) land next door to their farm, with a reputation for flooding a local road and silting up the stream. With carbon capture and nature restoration as primary goals, the landowners are seeking ways to reduce their properties’ (church buildings in this case) carbon footprint and increase biodiversity, while maintaining choice of other primary activities on the land (e.g. housing development). They have several such plots in the Diocese which offer the opportunity to cultivate new relationships with alternative farming practitioners on small parcels of land that previously would have been undervalued or just contracted as part of large scale conventional farming, so this is a win-win situation.

Is this the future of what land planning and agricultural policy could enable across all geographies of the UK? Twenty-five acres can produce significant amounts of food for a local community when farmed in the right way.

For any large-scale change to take place in post-Brexit farming in the UK, tenancy and planning policy has to be reconfigured in a way that secures better rights and security for entrant tenant farmers growing food. The examples of the Diocesan land tenancy as largescale landowners joining forces with small-scale farm practitioners such as Huxhams Cross, is a case study in the making. It raises questions on food and farming policy and practice for the future and how such tenancies can be part of better practice for local food, how they are established and implemented.

This example invites us all to reconceptualise the way we value land and food production in the broader terms of the social, ecological, and economic dimensions. Coulson and Milbourne (2022)* build on this perspective using the framework of socioecological justice that connects issues of “access, ownership, management and use of land, revealing the diverse contestations and struggles associated with the transformation of the physical and political post-Brexit landscape”. These struggles call for a demonstration of more possibilities across large parcels of land in the UK to showcase how the actions carried out on land can be more than just an ‘exchange value’, but instead framed from a ‘use value’ that interweaves innovative and modern solutions that place the development of new partnerships, stewardship and healthy ecosystems at front and centre stage.

The Land Trust is happy to help advise and support with networking and land opportunities! Whatever stage of development you are in with your business plan we are interested in hearing from you! And also do contact us if you have an opinion piece to share.

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