Acting on farmland at the department level: land banking and plots exchange in Ille-et-Vilaine

Author: Alice Martin-Prével, Terre de Liens

1) Objectives and highlights

Following a regional assessment and the creation of an Agricultural Charter, the Departmental Council of Ille-et-Vilaine decided to take steps to encourage young farmers to set up agricultural activities, develop local organic and diversified farming, and keep farms on a human scale. To achieve these objectives, the Council is working on the theme of agricultural land using different levers such as temporary ownership of banked land on which farmers can start up their activity, and mutually agreed exchanges of parcels of land.

2) Stakeholders involved

Local authorities involved:

  • The Departmental Council of Ille-et-Vilaine initiated and implements the support schemes for land banking and parcel exchanges.

Other stakeholders involved:

  • The SAFER regional rural land agency (limited company with a public interest role) purchases and holds temporary ownership of the banked land.

  • The association Terre de Liens (TDL) Brittany plays a role as a local land actor, supporting new entrants to get land through this scheme.

  • Other agricultural organisations can be contacted for support in setting up new entrants: CIVAM35 IT, Agrobio35, etc.

  • The Chamber of Agriculture facilitates the plots exchange scheme and can provide advice on exchanges and the preparation of subsidy requests.

3) Context and levers

The department of Ille-et-Vilaine, in the Brittany region, observes similar trends to other French territories regarding land concentration (parcels sold for farm expansion), speculation (parcels sold for non-agricultural uses), and the lack of farm transfers to new generations. The Ille-et-Vilaine land banking scheme relies on a partnership with the SAFER rural land agency, which has market intervention power. The SAFER is notified of land offers and can purchase land on a mutually-agreed basis or through its pre-emption power. In recent years, the role of the SAFER has been expanded in the area of land watch and support to new entrants and sustainable projects. Concerning the land exchange procedure, it is included in the French Rural Code. Thus, the French regulatory environment provides favourable tools, but the Ille-et-Vilaine department decided to leverage them and support their use locally.

4) Actions led

Since 2007, the department of Ille-et-Vilaine has passed an agreement with the SAFER Brittany to intervene on the land market in favour of new entrants. When a farm that is of interest to a new entrant with a sustainable project is put up for sale, the new entrant can apply to ask to benefit from the land banking scheme. The Departmental Council processes the application to make sure it meets the criteria to benefit from the council’s support. Criteria include the fact that the farmer is setting up outside of a family farm and has a rural/agricultural project which is sustainable, organic, diversified, or has a high added value. If the Council approves the request for support, it commits to cover the costs incurred by the SAFER for the temporary land banking. This includes covering management and temporary ownership costs (such as utilities and property tax on land) paid by the SAFER, as well as covering the SAFER’s own fees for intervening (8% of the price for mutually-agreed transactions, 13% for pre-emptions). The Department’s financial help is capped at €15,000 per project. Above this limit, the Brittany administrative region can cover part of the extra costs linked to temporary land banking. New entrants’ applications also have to get the approval of the SAFER committee, which will give the final decision on whether or not to allocate land to them.

There are many advantages to this scheme. Firstly, the system makes it possible to react quickly when farms are put up for sale and to bank land for organic, sustainable and diversified agriculture in the region. Secondly, land banking provides precious time (up to two years) for the new entrant to finish preparing their plans for setting up their farming activity, particularly to secure funds and make the necessary arrangements to buy the land temporarily owned by the SAFER. During the temporary ownership period, the SAFER can sign a temporary occupation contract (COPP) with the new farmer, which enables them to begin their activity on the land. The COPP, however, does not allow them to benefit from start-up subsidies, as these can only be obtained once the land has been bought and the farmer becomes “officially” established.

As well as land banking to bring new famers to the area, the Department of Ille-et-Vilaine is involved in another land initiative: exchange of parcels of land in order to maintain, strengthen and improve the viability of existing farms. This type of exchanges, which are provided for in the Rural Code (article L124-3), is aided by the option of submitting a request for the Departmental Council to cover notarial and/or surveying costs linked to the exchange. Private owners (whether farmers or not) and public owners (e.g. regional authorities) are eligible for this assistance, with a ceiling of €1000 per party for legal documentation costs. The Department’s assistance covers 80% of costs for bilateral exchanges and 100% for multilateral exchanges. A visit from a departmental technician is required for the assistance to be granted.

5) Limits and perspectives

By 2017, the Departmental Council had helped new entrants launch their activities on more than 29 farms through the land banking programme (221 ha of banked land). 47 jobs had been created on the 29 farms. ​​

Limits for the land banking scheme include the fact that the cap of €15,000 on costs covered by the Department (equivalent to banking land for two years for a property worth €75,000) may appear not to correspond to the average prices of farms. The remaining costs can be partially covered by the Brittany administrative region, but on different lines of funding, which may not fully cover the SAFER’s fees (remaining costs may then have to be covered by the new entrant).

Regarding the parcel exchange scheme, there is a risk that it could contribute to speculation and the upward trend in farmland prices. This is because the publicly-funded land consolidation makes farms more attractive properties and therefore potentially increases their sale price.

Finally, it is difficult to monitor in the long term the environmental aspects, sustainability and innovativeness of the new farming projects and/or mutually-agreed exchanges promoted by the Council’s schemes.

Despite the fact that Department’s investment in land banking and exchange can be questioned by newly elected officials, it has so far been re-conducted with a budget of about around €80,000 - €100,000 allocated to the two schemes each year. In 2020 the amount allocated to land banking was estimated at around €70,000 and the amount for exchanges between €12,000 and €20,000.

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