CPRE report looking at future of council farms

March 31, 2022

Council-owned farmland should be used to trial innovations in regenerative agriculture to deliver nature, climate and food security, a report by CPRE, and supported by the PCF has proposed.

As soaring fertiliser and fuel costs threaten to push up domestic food prices, and the war in Ukraine threatens a worldwide food crisis, over 100,000 hectares of local government-owned farmland could be used to prioritise new methods of carbon-neutral farming. Reimagining the purpose of council farms would see risk taking and fresh thinking incentivised to trial ideas seeking to produce food, reverse damage to nature, lock up carbon and make a healthy return for both farmer and council.

This publicly-owned farmland could be used for public benefit: to incubate and accelerate new, resourceful people who can help solve the nature, climate and food crises. Council farms have long supported fresh talent to enter the industry. They should be promoted as a platform for new people to bring new thinking: as agricultural R&D hubs seeking healthier ways to produce food, protect the environment and make a profit, all at the same time.

CPRE’s new report presents a new national purpose for council farms as beacons of innovation. Crucially, the land should be valued broadly as a community asset – not only a financial one – for its social, economic and environmental contributions. Council farms would provide multiple public goods, including access to nutritious local food and better engagement with the local countryside. And they would prioritise innovation by mentoring talented newcomers – including those with backgrounds in areas such as science, business or marketing – with an interest in regenerative or agroecological farming.

Crispin Truman, chief executive of CPRE, the countryside charity, said:

‘Council farms can play a vital role in incubating a whole new generation of regenerative farmers with the skills and knowledge to take the industry forward. With the input costs of fuel and fertiliser soaring at the same time as farmers are preparing to transition to ELMs-based payments, It’s becoming ever clearer that regenerative agriculture delivers multiple benefits for all. Using less fertiliser reduces costs while improving soil health. Cover crops drive nitrogen into the soil, while lower tillage cuts fuel and machinery bills. We need to bring together nature, food and climate – and farm in ways that improve all three.’

In these times of economic, ecological and health crises, the true value of land to society is perhaps becoming clear. Policy now is reflecting the role land plays – from food production to delivering other vital services – such as carbon storage, abundant and accessible space for nature and clean, slow water. This public rethinking of land use only increases the urgency of using it differently in future. It is also a major opportunity for those who own land and work it to act. In doing so they can do much towards reversing current damaging trends and make a serious contribution to addressing key global and national challenges around climate, nature and food.

Read the report