ORFC 2024: Finding the right Successor for your Land & Opportunities for New Entrants for a Resilient Farm Future

As I walked into the Oxford Town Hall for the opening plenary of the Oxford Real Farming Conference earlier this month, the air was charged with a palpable sense of urgency and hope.  The conference, a gathering of minds committed to sustainable and ecological farming practices, provided an intimate platform to share experiences, insights, and challenges. It is evident that the farming community’s dedication to nurturing the land goes hand in hand with a shared concern for its future.

The Biodynamic Land Trust was fortunate to hold a session on this year’s conference – our session titled “Finding the right Successor for your Land & Opportunities for New Entrants for a Resilient Farm Future” shared some of the complexities of farm succession and explored avenues for new entrants to contribute to a resilient agricultural landscape. The session focused on the critical issue of succession planning for small to medium-sized farms, especially when there are no family members to carry the torch. The backdrop of our discussion was a case-study approach, including stories from Plaw Hatch and Springham Farms in East Sussex, and Huxhams Cross Farm in Devon, showcasing diverse options for farmers seeking the next stage for their land. As we explored enterprise stacking, subcontracting activities, share farming, community engagement, and local food production, and nature covenants it became clear that resilience lies not just in the soil but in the diversity of approaches we adopt.

Succession planning tends to be an uncomfortable topic. Nevertheless, the urgency to address the uncertain future in succession planning is underscored by the reality that delaying this crucial process limits options. Through our panel presentation and open discussions, we shared practical insights and solutions, emphasizing the importance of starting the journey toward a future-resilient and climate-friendly farm today.

Farmers, by nature, are rooted in tradition and the challenges of the changing daily needs and so are often reluctant to confront bigger changes. Yet, the necessity of farm planning for food sovereignty and viability cannot be overstated. The Biodynamic Land Trust’s experience highlights a trend where many farmers are leaving succession planning until the eleventh hour, inadvertently narrowing their choices.

There is a pressing need in the ecological farming world for society to broaden its understanding of the role new and entrant farmers can play in the agricultural landscape given the right support and opportunities. We, as the agroecological community, need to make access to land and proper training for new entrants a priority, if we still want to see sustainable food growing in Britain in 20 years’ time. Coincidentally, sustainable farming is the only way forward to not only feed our population, but to enable our communities to thrive and prosper.

Sitting here and thinking back on the conference, my main takeaway is that a collective effort is essential for paving the way to a resilient farming future. The challenges we face, from succession planning to integrating new entrants, necessitate a paradigm shift in how we perceive and approach the evolving agricultural landscape. The Oxford Real Farming Conference serves as a melting pot for ideas, sparking conversations that will hopefully take root and flourish, cultivating a sustainable and resilient future for agriculture.

Please see the RECORDING of our ORFC session on Vimeo. The presentation slides can be found on our Succession page on the website here.

Mari-Liis Nukis
Land Projects and Development Officer

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