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New Research Seeks to Support Sustainable Farm Businesses in Europe

New farmers can face quite a number of barriers in developing sustainable businesses, including access to land, labour, capital, housing, markets, networks and knowledge. A new Europe-wide research initiative aims to overcome these hurdles through increased access to information resources, including business models and a ‘virtual library’ of success stories.

The EU Horizon 2020-funded project NEWBIE, which stands for New Entrant netWork: Business models for Innovation, entrepreneurship and resilience in European agriculture, seeks to improve on the current situation through the concerted efforts of agricultural advisors, educators, business specialists and social scientists, including researchers of the James Hutton Institute in Scotland.

Dr Lee-Ann Sutherland, a Research Leader in the Institute’s Social, Economic and Geographical Sciences group and author of a recent report for the European Parliament on New Entrant Supports, said that although there are government supports available to help young people establish farms, they still face incredible obstacles.

“Young people and newcomers bring innovation and energy to the sector but it’s a difficult road. Viable commercial farms typically make low returns from enormous capital investments. This is a challenge both for bringing successors into the business, and for newcomers who are trying to compete.

“Whether they’re developing a new business on an existing farm, or starting out on their own, young people work long hours for years to make their businesses a success.  The passion they show for their work is inspiring, and is key to Scotland’s farming future.”

As part of the start of NEWBIE, researchers and agricultural advisors visited four ‘new entrant’ farms in the Aberdeenshire region, where enthusiastic farmers have adopted a range of approaches to address the biggest barriers to new entrants to farming in Scotland.

Kirsten Williams talked about her pedigree sheep flock, and the opportunities for starter business units offered through Scotland’s National Forest Estate.  At Forest Farm Dairy, they saw the new organic ‘milk vending machines’, which have enabled direct marketing consumers, and heard from farmer William Willis about opportunities for on-farm processing.

At Megan Albon’s, they learned about the opportunities of micro-businesses including the production of organic vegetables. At Sittyton, John Fyall, chairman of the Scottish National Sheep Association, talked about the challenges he faced entering the sector, and the difficulty of securing new tenancies.

Dr Annie McKee, leader of a recent study for the Scottish Land Commission on increasing the availability of farmland for new entrants, added: “Access to land is the biggest barrier – not just in Scotland but across Europe.

“There are opportunities out there for accessing land, but it’s about working with both young people and established farmers who are wanting to retire, and making it work for everyone involved.”

The NEWBIE team continues to build networks between newcomers, farm successors and their advisors across Europe, in order to increase the ability of farm successors and newcomers to agriculture to develop successful farm businesses.

For further details about NEWBIE, visit

Source: The James Hutton Institute