Learn More

Building a Farmland Trust

Crickhowell 1930s

The picture shows Crickhowell in the 1930s. The area of horticulture in the picture is now a carpark, visitor centre and housing estate – typical of towns across all of Wales.

Small-scale farming serving local markets was once prolific in Wales (the photograph shows Crickhowell in the 1930s), but the food economy since the Second World War has depopulated farming and developed far-flung food supply chains. Most of the food we grow is now exported outside of our region, and most of the food we eat here is imported.

Through our work in Bannau Brycheiniog National Park and Powys, we have concluded that the fundamental constraint to this kind of farming is lack of access to land with affordable housing. New young farmers with skills in small-scale commercial growing cannot afford to buy farms. An experiment to help them to lease land from existing farmers and landowners did not yield a scalable approach: there are too many legal, bureaucratic, financial and physical barriers.

Our Food 1200, through funding secured by the Conservation Farming Trust, has made a film about the experience of these new farmers: Our Food, Our Future.

So, we are embarking on a four-step strategy:

  1. A pilot development of three new small farms to test planning, investment costs and farmer recruitment. We’ve written about this here.
  2. The design of a Farmland Trust that buys land and develops new small farms: business plan, financial projections, organisational structure.
  3. Pilot the new Farmland Trust with an investment fund of £10m.
  4. Scale up to a £100m investment fund. We are discussing this with the Wye-Usk Transition Lab.

The Farmland Trust: the concept

The Farmland Trust, constituted as a not-for-profit community land trust, will acquire farmland and convert it into small farms with homes for a new generation of farmers growing agroecologically for local markets.

We will design the Trust based on examining other successful farmland trusts and the requirements of investors. Our starting proposition is:

  • > Buy farms and farmland.
  • > Re-sell large buildings unsuited to small-scale farming, surrounded by a modest amount of land. These buildings are much in demand within the wealthy housing market.
  • > Build groups of small farms, around 3-10 acres per farm, each with a comfortable, relocatable family home.
  • > Rent the farms for five years.
  • > After five years, once each farm enterprise has proven viable, either: Sell a long-term lease (100 years+) to the farmer, with a condition that the land must be used for farming. Include the home in the sale or remove it and re-use it elsewhere so that the farmer can build their own new dwelling.
  • > Or: For farmers wanting to continue renting or to buy the lease gradually, sell the rental income stream to a body that specialises in longer-term investment.
  • > Recycle the investment to build more farms.

To enable new farms to flourish (and for that matter, lots of other farms in our region), we need to create a supportive infrastructure.

To this end, the following projects are underway in parallel to building a Farmland Trust.

Planning permission

A current project with Powys County Council and Bannau Brycheiniog National Park has been generating new planning guidelines that enable the creation of small farms with homes and suitable infrastructure. Planning has been a major barrier in the past, but this appears close to being resolved. The new guidelines will be tested for Powys in the Sarn pilot project.

Supply chains

Once farms start growing, access to markets will be a challenge since the local food economy has been so denuded. Existing supply chains to wholesalers and supermarkets generate unfair prices for farms. We are developing a project to build new farmer-owned supply chains for both local and city markets.  We’ve already created Bannau Acres, an association of small farms, as a basis for this. At the same time, local authorities are increasingly procuring food from local sources. Powys has just announced a substantial new contract to secure more food for schools from local suppliers via the Welsh wholesaler and distributor, Castell Howell.

New farmers

The local training college, Black Mountains College, runs an NVQ Level 2 Diploma in Regenerative Horticulture, currently taking 20 students a year. This provides a good supply of future farmers, as well as opportunities for trainee internships on local farms, offering valuable hands-on experience in exchange for labour. We will support the expansion of this training.

Welsh Government policy

As a result of efforts by our sector, the kind of farming we’re promoting, once excluded entirely from the farming subsidy scheme, will not only be included but prioritised in future. At the same time, we are launching a new food security programme to advocate to national and local governments, and to communities to adapt to an increasingly unstable future food supply. Solutions include, among other measures, more diverse supplies of food, including locally grown fruit, vegetables and other produce.

Crickhowell 1930s
Crickhowell in the 1930s

Latest updates

Keep up to date with our latest news and updates

View all