Assembly urged to halt decline in council farms

THE Welsh Assembly Government is being pressed to use its influence on local councils across Wales not to sell off council smallholding estates.

It says the local authority farm network must be maintained and developed so they can continue to provide an invaluable entry and progression route into farming.

The union’s call is the key message in its response to the Assembly’s Rural Development Sub-Committee inquiry into local authority farms in Wales.

Fearing the present economic climate could make some local authorities consider a programme of farm disposals, it believes the Assembly has an important role play in helping to identify good practice and promoting better uniformity between local authorities in the way they manage their farms.

“We appreciate the major financial pressures currently on local authorities, but we do not accept that selling off one of their prime assets is the answer,” says tenant dairy farmer, Stephen Alderman, from Castlemartin, Pembrokeshire, who gave oral evidence on behalf of NFU Cymru.

“That would be tantamount to selling the family silver. Instead a well managed estate should be seen as a vital and profitable asset for local authorities.”

With the right incentives and opportunities for tenants, the farm network could deliver a number of other important aspirations, such as, renewable energy generation and waste utilization, as well as being used as an educational resource.

“We have always held the view that local authority farms provide younger people without sufficient capital a chance to get into the farming industry ─ which has become one of the most difficult to enter,” added Mr Alderman.

“Ideally the local authority network should offer a good mix of farm types and size to allow for progression.

“We also feel a more integrated approach is needed between local authorities and the private sector, to help progression on to larger holdings.

“The Assembly Government is well placed to help improve this linkage, possibly through its Farming Connect scheme.”

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