A holistic policy can also associate actions by the local authority to link up priority land users and those who can support them. This is in particular the case with landowners and retiring farmers who control land that could be made available to agroecological farmers.

A huge amount of land is about to change hands in Europe. With a third (32%) of farm managers in the EU aged 65 years or more (Eurostat 2018), and many farms without designated successors, there is an urgent need to ensure that farmland is transferred to sustainable users. Furthermore, non-farming landowners should also be part of the conversation to lease land to specific users. Local authorities can provide skills and mediation to support extra-family land leases or transfers.

Helping make land offers and land demands known
  • map lands that are about to “change hands” (retiring farmers, contracts up for renewal)

  • map common pastures accessible to new entrants

  • create a platform for land ads (allowing to put online land offers/demands) and investigate other ways to make data accessible

Promoting inter knowledge between new entrants and retiring farmers
  • organise cafés, annual forums, land fairs, and other meetings to bring together farmers/owners susceptible to transfer land and potential successors/new entrants

  • subsidise mentorship or internship programs where retiring farmers welcome a potential successor on the farm

  • make both parties aware of the challenges faced by the other (e.g. for retiring farmers low pensions, attachment to the farm, family issues related to transferring land…) and other ways to raise awareness

Provide tools to facilitate connections and contracts
  • make available template contracts between landowners and farmers

  • communicate about or establish schemes to promote the association of old and new generations on the farm

  • help establish conservation agreements or environmental contracts for owners who want to see their land farmed organically (notably by working with associations specialised in making these agreements)

Act as an intermediary in contracts
  • find and vet candidates (or connect with land organisations that can help in doing so)

  • provide guarantee services for contracts

  • provide lease management services (making leases, collecting rents, responding to tenants’ demands, renewing leases, etc.) (see box “Zoom on land banks in Spain below)

Especially if you are a small municipality and know your constituents well, you can individually check on farmers nearing retirement age. Ask them how they see the future, if they have plans for the farm, and whether they have an identified successor. You can tell them if you know of young people interested in farming in the area. The goal is to counterbalance natural social links between established farmers who already know each other and the likelihood that a farmer without an identified successor will sell the land to a neighbour or existing farm.

Forest management through grazing: the Boscos de Pastura initiative (Spain)

The local consortium of the Lluçanès area (grouping of 13 villages) works closely with the association of local forestland owners to manage wildfire risks through extensive herding. Through the “Boscos de Pastura” project, these actors work to:

  • Mediate and promote agreements to allow farmers to graze their animals in private forests (which reduces vegetation density and fire risk).

  • Channel public investment towards infrastructure and maintenance of private forests to make them accessible for farmers, e.g. perform prior forest management actions to ensure herders can access them.

Agreements involve local authorities, the landowner association, and private landowners and farmers. The benefits are multifold, in particular helping manage forests and wildfire risks and helping some new or established farmers consolidate their business through access to grazing land.

Zoom on: Land banks in Spain

Key features:

  • Identifying and matching land offers and land demands

  • Local authorities acting as intermediaries between private owners and farming tenants

In some regions of Spain land ownership is highly fragmented and the rates of land abandonment are high (owners are sometimes remote, and their land is too small to constitute a viable farm). Since the 2000s, multiple land banks at the municipal or regional levels have been created. These can play different roles:

  • Generally, land banks consist of at least a website to connect landowners and those interested in land cultivation (owners can enter their plots, and farmers can register their interests);

  • Some land banks also facilitate lease transactions, by realising the contract and/or providing guarantees (paying rents to owners – who won’t deal directly with leaseholders –, guaranteeing the return of the land in a good state, guaranteeing the farmer’s right to use the land for the duration of the contract…).

  • Land banks have also played a role in the frame of “land mobility” pilot projects to reorganise parcels to create more viable farming units (these projects can include land clearing and other fieldwork to improve infrastructure). The plots of the area concerned by the mobility project are then incorporated in the land bank to facilitate contracts with private landowners.

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