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Cornwall Council’s Farms Strategy
Author: Graciela Romer-Vásquez, Shared Assets
1) Objectives and Highlights
Cornwall Council’s cross-sector policy
A salient feature of the Cornwall Council’s policy and management of its farms estate is the combination of land ownership, regulation and facilitation. For instance, management and environmental concerns are interrelated with the policy emphasis on supporting new entrants to land based businesses (1). The policy guidance followed by this local authority is systemic. It includes different development sectors and their association to farming (e.g. health, education, water management, and ecoservices) across different landscapes.
Cornwall Council’s Farms Strategy includes several aspects such as:
- connecting farming with ancillary businesses;
- promoting new entrants’ access to land based businesses;
- the local authority meeting standards such as decent homes and animal health and welfare;
- a public consultation conducted prior to its design.
2) Stakeholders involved
Local Authorities Involved:
- Council of Cornwall County
- Council Farms Service
- Officers from Farm Teams
- Land agents
- Environmental services
Other stakeholders involved:
- External consultants to prepare the Whole Farm Plan
- Overview and Scrutiny Committee (currently Neighbourhoods)
- Partnership with the Isles of Scilly
- National Farmers Union
Cornwall county is located in the southwestern tip of England. 78% of its land is used for agriculture, of which the Council manages around 4,500 ha (1.5% of the County’s land). This contributes £15m to its economy and creates farm-related employment for an average of 255 individuals, including part-time and seasonal workers (1). From the original formation of the Council’s estate of 400 let holdings, this number has reduced and the plots have increased in size, with 170 lettings in 1991 to 89 farm lettings in 2019. These are primarily livestock and dairy farms varying from 5.2 to 91 ha. Cornwall Council has historically managed the land and assets acting as landlord and local policymaker as well as implementing national policies on food and farming. From 1947 the Council’s aim was to retain rural workforce, then in 1970 it focused on reorganising and modernising farming.
The current local authority's overarching purpose is to foster productive and community-integrated land businesses that contribute to growth, based on sustainable development. Under this remit the Council has developed a long-term strategy (2019 - 2030) to guide the management of the estate (land, buildings and machinery). Some of the key issues that the Council’s strategy is seeking to address are poor soil management, biodiversity reductions, impacts on water quality and carbon emissions and enhancing new entrants’ access to land based businesses. Key actions are The Whole Farm Plan, to be implemented by farm holders, and the Council’s Estate Business Plan which should address: “profitable businesses, informed investment, good governance, measured management, enhanced environment and accessible acres”(1).
4) Actions led
Local authority key principles and actions:
- Farming futures envisions opening the path to new entrants into farming, using existing council land and assets.
- A key priority for the local authority is to have good governance and adequate management, for instance of the income generated by rents of council farmland. This relates to landlord - tenants partnership and how this is managed, which are set in the Whole Farm Plan prepared by consultants and implemented with farm tenants.
- A key action by the Council in 2019 was to provide affordable housing to farmers. There is a lack of clarity in the 2019 strategy as to whether this tackles existing farm housing concerns.
- The local authority plans to work with tenants on land management techniques and cropping rotations that protect and build soil nutrients, thus reducing the release of carbon dioxide.
- Methane capture, as well as planting woodland. This includes planting trees on about 300 ha of farmland over the next 10 years and the introduction of methane capture over slurry lagoons, reducing the release of greenhouse gases (2).
- A local policy planning initiative tabled in 2021 (3) on sustainable development in rural areas included three areas: spatial strategy, natural environment and green infrastructure; health and wellbeing; and shopping and community services.
- There is the aim of implementing CSA (community supported agriculture) and other schemes to promote new forms of production and generate community involvement. This action appears to need more work to be implemented as stated in the strategy and expressed by a councillor.
5) Limitations and enhancing conditions to move forward
- Having no policy to acquire more land and consolidating large farms can lead to highly concentrated land ownership. In this respect, the decision of the Council is to maintain the overall estate. Having said this, it is noted that given financial constraints, part of the revenue to invest in council farms is through selling off some high capital value residential buildings and decreasing the number of holdings available to let. This would mean tougher competition for applicants, explained a councillor in 2020 (2).
- The policy guidance would benefit from detailing paths to create incentives for new generations, for instance linking this to education or land succession paths or collective forms of management of land where share costs can be held.
- The narrow areas of production in public farms (stock and dairy) may limit the level of diversification to achieve a sustainable model of production.
- The combination of organic practices and use of fertilisers and other conventional methods – which can create environmental hazards – as a policy guide can create confusion at the time of implementation and monitoring by local staff and land users.
Opportunities to move forward:
- Given the Council’s aim to connect different sectors to farming, there is scope to move towards a more multifunctional farming sector in a systematic manner. For instance, involving land management with public food procurement and sustainable commercialisation.
- The Council endeavours to cap the land rents to enhance possibilities for tenants. However, this is not enough to meet the outgoings in farming businesses. Therefore there is a need to explore and invest in other land management models. For instance, in land trusts managed by CSA and small- and medium-scale cooperatives linked to wider provision and distribution of food by the Council.
- The recognition of the need for new models of production within a sustainable framework opens the possibility to learn from models that transition from conventional agriculture towards environmentally friendly agriculture such as agroecology (4), permaculture and organic farming.