My Personal Nuffield Study

Subject Title

Addressing the perceived failings of short-term land occupation

A Brief Outline

Land is a finite resource and is reducing year on year. In contrast, the UK population is growing, and expected to reach over 73 million by 2037, up from 63 million as recorded during the 2011 census. Britain’s ability to feed itself has fallen dramatically in recent decades, with self-sufficiency dropping from 78% to 60% in the past 30 years.

Addressing the issue of productivity lies at the heart of ensuring that as a nation, we have a sustainable agricultural industry. My study will question whether short-term land occupation has led to inefficiency within our food production system and explore possible solutions to address the issue. I believe that our industry’s cultural outlook will need to be scrutinised and I will question whether our underlying role as custodians has been forgotten.

Our most valuable asset, the land and soils in which we rely upon to supply food is progressively coming under strain as businesses look for short-term gain in an era of increasing price volatility and uncertainty in the market. The notable degradation of soils and organic matter, the invasion of pests and disease coupled with weed infestation are just a few notable negative outcomes.

My study will explore the negative impacts of short-termism and look to promote the benefits of collaboration and long term strategies between businesses sector wide. My report, once produced, will include examples and case studies of situations where the sharing of knowledge and expertise has been successful, and improved commerciality.

I believe the topic is timely, as government places more emphasis on self-sufficiency, the TFA are calling for longer term tenancies and issues like resistant black grass are causing great concern. The industry is ready for a much wider debate and needs to consider how best to protect our national asset long into the future.

Why Have I Chosen This Topic?

On a day to day basis, I am involved in advising clients on how best to manage their rural property portfolio to meet their objectives, whether this is letting land out under a Farm Business Tenancy or entering into a shared or contract farming type agreement. Utimately clients have varying agendas which usually have underlying tax criteria to be met.

For too long, particularly across arable land, lets governed by FBT’s have arguable been for too shorter periods, usually for no more than 3 years. This is also the case with many contract farming agreements, which, more often than not, operate on an annual basis.

With increasing price volatility, weed infestation, unfavourable weather conditions, the invasion of pests and the notable degradation of our soils, the system needs to change if the productivity of our industry is to improve. On the whole, little security is offered in exchange for inflated rents or unattractive JV arrangements, and thus the underlying asset, the soil, undoubtedly becomes exposed to exploitation.

This is a huge problem and needs tackling head on is we are to successfully increase the productivity of our industry whilst making it commercially viable for all. A knee jerk response would be to provide longer term security, reduced rents or provide greater financial reward under JV arrangements, but I don’t believe this is the right answer in its entirety. The culture of our industry needs to be redirected, and with a personal desire to find and promote a sustainable solution which explores more collaborative thinking, I look forward to addressing the issue in greater depth.

Where Will My Study Take Me?

Throughout my study, I intend to visit a range of European countries including Ireland, Germany and The Netherlands together with Denmark, Sweden, Poland and Romania where a range of occupation and collaborative structures are promoted.  I will also spend time traveling throughout the UK.

My travels will provide me with a unique opportunity to interact with various stakeholders; from larger landed estates to smaller farms and cooperative structures.  I plan to meet farmers, landowners and occupiers as well as agronomists, agents and other professionals, all with a view to understanding, from them, the possible benefits of longer term strategies, and the implications of those strategies on the underlying asset.

As I progress through my Nuffield travels, I will be posting blogs on this site, so please do follow with interest.

In addition to my own scholarship travels, I am extremely fortunate to have been awarded a Global Focus Programme Tour, in which I will be spending a designated amount of time traveling with a small group of International Nuffield Scholars. To find out more about that Tour, please click here.