The CLA in the North is on a drive to promote the benefits of share farming as a way of helping new entrants into the industry, while assisting long-established farmers with a gradual transition to retirement.
The latest figures from Defra suggest just under 14,000 farmers in England are aged 65 or over, accounting for almost 25% of the total. Around 18,000, meanwhile, are aged between 55 and 65, while the younger generation struggles with the costs involved in starting out in the sector.
According to the CLA, the problem with traditional farming arrangements is that a farmer is either in or out. Share farming, however, provides a middle ground whereby an ageing farmer who cannot afford to retire can start to wind-down without having to worry about paying the bills, as he provides a proportion of his farmland for a partner to work on.
“Share farming has been on the go for a while in different parts of the world, but has been on the back burner here for a long time,” said CLA North Director of Policy & Public Affairs, Douglas Chalmers.
“Currently, we have a huge problem at either end of the farming ladder. The younger ones can’t afford to buy a farm or even rent a farm, with tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of pounds involved in starting up.
“At the other end, many farmers are in their sixties and don’t know how to get out of the industry and retire.
“Through share farming, both get to run businesses, both are still farmers, and the share can be altered over time.”
He added that getting into farming was seen as “quite exciting again”, since following decades of crises within agriculture, there was now a renewed focus on food production, greater awareness of the issue and tremendous innovation in terms of methods.
The CLA was therefore taking its message to agricultural colleges around the North.
“We’re trying to impress the message upon young people who’re maybe considering what they’re going to do,” Mr Chalmers said. “Likewise, we’re speaking to older people, who are asking us what they can do in their advancing years, and to farm advisers as well.”
The initiative is one of wide range being undertaken by the CLA currently to help secure the long-term future of farming and rural business within the North East.
The body, which recently launched its manifesto for the 2015 general election - Unlock the Countryside’s Potential - is also heavily involved in the work of NEFRAN, the North East Farming and Rural Advisory Network, currently working with LEPs in the region to help boost the rural economy and create jobs.
Ongoing issues under discussion include the need to improve broadband provision in rural areas and ensure those involved in the rural economy have access to the necessary skills training.
“Government strategies are always about jobs and growth, and, although we can’t blame them, it’s natural to think: what could be the biggest hitters?” Mr Chalmers said. “They will therefore often look to urban areas.
“What we are trying to get the LEPs to recognise is that rural businesses are more than just farming or tourism. In the North East, the latest figures suggest around 25% of GVA will come from rural businesses, so we’re punching above our weight.”