Farm Incubators – Learning from France

Our Policy Officer James MacKessack-Leitch shares his experience of visiting farm incubators in France and draws parallels for the Scottish sector: 

At the end of October I joined a NEWBIE delegation on a trip to northern France to learn more about farm incubators. This is part of the Scottish Land Commission’s work to help increase access tJames FINALo land for those who want to farm and reduce barriers to new entrants. NEWBIE is a European-funded initiative with the goal of increasing innovation, entrepreneurship, and resilience in the European farming sector.

France, like Scotland, has an ageing farming population so it is looking for ways to encourage new entrants into agriculture and one of the ways they are doing this is through farm incubators. We are looking at farm incubators as a potential route to increase access to land for agriculture, and they also featured as an option to investigate in our report into Increasing the Availability of Farmland for New Entrants to Agriculture in Scotland, published in May 2018.

Our hosts for the exchange visit were the French RENETA network, who bring together a range of organisations across the country, collectively supporting around 50 operational incubators units, with over a dozen more in development. Farm incubators are still a relatively new innovation – the first having been established in 2007 – and RENETA itself only formed in 2012, but the demand for, and success of, the model is clearly driving growth.

For RENETA, a farm incubator is defined as a coordinated system offering the conditions necessary to implement a trial farming period, with the provision of:

  • A legal framework to enable each candidate to carry out their farm business in autonomy
  • Productions facilities – land, as well as buildings and fixed equipment, potentially some machinery and tools
  • A multifaceted support and mentoring system adapted to the needs of each candidate.
A presentation from RENETA with info on their terms and roles of farm incubators

There was a lot to learn from the trip and it’s worth acknowledging that the French approach to agriculture is very different to ours on a cultural and political level: it’s clear that that approach is the core foundation supporting the activities of the public authorities, the third sector, and farm businesses.

This is perhaps best demonstrated through the actions of the Lille Metropole (MEL) – our first stop on the exchange. MEL is a group of 90 Communes (Local Authorities) centred around Lille and working together to address common issues. Recognising agriculture as a major asset for the development of the local economy, MEL has invested almost €3 million on one 35ha site to provide farmland and fixed equipment for early career farmers: although not an incubator itself, it is a destination for new entrants who have come through the incubators and are seeking to grow their business.

The public sector is being proactive in ensuring that early career farmers have a rung on the ladder after incubation, and that they are willing to make substantial investment to do so.

This proactive approach was also shared at our next stop, with Douaisis Agglo (CAD) – a smaller group of 35 communes – who also provide funding and other support to local agriculture projects. One example was acquiring land to add to existing public land to create a viable agricultural unit, installing a new entrant tenant, providing a €12,000 grant to get the business up and running, and assisting with marketing and access to networks.

Another example was of a municipal incubator providing additional, indirect, support to a new entrant involved in horticulture by ensuring that the local primary school was one of the main customers – demonstrating the power of joined-up public procurement, as well as realising the benefits of a short supply chain.

Squash and pumpkins destined for lunch at the local primary school

In all cases, while the public sector often takes the leading role, they work closely with a wide range of partner organisations, across the public sector, private interests, and charitable bodies. Strikingly, it appears quite normal to have multiple partners actively involved and working effectively together in single projects: at a regional level it may involve 60 or more organisations collaborating, agreeing, and acting on a strategic vision for agriculture.

Involving such a large number and breadth of interests in decision making may sound like a recipe for chaos, but in practice the ability and willingness to collaborate is so well-established, and the recognition that everyone is aiming towards common goals is so accepted, it means that getting round the table (admittedly a very big table), agreeing a course of action and then acting on it is reasonably straightforward.

Of course, much of the ability of local government to play a leading and proactive role in supporting agriculture relies on the fact that it has the powers, finance, and personnel to do so – for which there is no Scottish parallel, and no short-term likelihood of change.


There are lessons that are eminently transferrable. The willingness of the public sector to take a leadership role, facilitate discussion and action need not be not resource-intensive, nor requires significant changes to policy or legislation.


Likewise the commitment to collaborate is something the wider agriculture sector here could learn from – if we’re all genuinely acting in the interests of the industry as a whole, then we all share the same ultimate goals. It’s hard to emphasise this enough, but seeing the willingness to collaborate first-hand makes it clear why French agriculture is sustainable and resilient. The creation of farm incubators, giving a start to new entrants, and then success in retaining that next generation of farmers is a clear demonstration of that commitment to innovation and collaboration.

To hear more about farm incubators and my experience in France, come along to the free NEWBIE seminar at Agriscot on 20 November:


Action on Blight

In our latest blog, Policy Officer Kathie Pollard explores how a new framework can help decision-makers assess the impact of vacant and derelict land (VDL) sites on their local communities.

“This land can have a profound effect on the wellbeing of locals:” Darren McGarvey – recording artist, social commentator and filmmaker – is standing near a cluster of derelict sites in Glasgow and talking about how such eyesores affect the lives of communities inKathie Pollard a documentary on inequalities and poverty in Scotland.

100% of Possilpark’s population lives within 500m of a derelict site, 96% within 250m and 68% within 100m. The figures are striking and the viewing compelling.

This supports the findings of a recent report[1] which says that potential harms of vacant and derelict sites can impact on health, the environment, economy and community, depending on the scale, former use and local context of the site. The Scottish Land Commission commissioned this research to help understand the harm that long-term vacancy and dereliction can cause to communities to properly reflect these in policy decisions.

Previous research and blogs have described the problems, barriers and impacts of living near derelict sites. We’ve committed to tackling this issue together with other organisations through the Vacant and Derelict Land Taskforce which has set out a bold, multi-faceted approach.

How can decision-makers, community groups and others use all of this information when faced with a feasibility study, funding application, discussing interventions for neglected sites or pulling together plans for a place? Our report aims to add a useful tool to help you to turn the blight into a productive site.

Measuring the impacts of dereliction framework

Understanding and assessing the impacts of blight on those living near to derelict land provides a powerful evidence base to help communities and decision makers to find the right mechanism to intervene in harmful sites: this is currently a layer of evidence missing and not considered by any formal mechanism when making decisions about vacant and derelict sites, particularly those smaller sites under 0.1 hectares. Current approaches tend to focus more on the financial returns on bringing a site back in to use and may undervalue wider long-term benefits to society and the environment. A new framework can help assess the impacts and help people articulate and evidence the harm that these sites may cause to communities, which can then be used to access funding or other interventions.

The framework guides the user through a step-by-step assessment of a site by following several steps:

  • Data collection including statistics on crime, quality and views on green infrastructure and the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation; this will help to characterise the local community to provide a basis for intervention. The purpose of this step is to identify sites within the local authority area which are considered most likely to be actively harming communities.
  • Impact this allows additional information to be added about the types of harms and may include the Place Standard tool, community workshops and knowledge sharing between different local authority teams.
  • Ranking – provides a way to rank the sites by how ‘harmful’ they might be based on the information gathered.

We are hoping this tool will be used by local authorities and other bodies to evaluate the extent to which VDL effects a community within a designated area, such as a neighbourhood, a town or local authority area. We will be working with a range of stakeholders to investigate how the framework could be used to help community groups make the case for investment in local sites, and how it could be used to help public bodies to prioritise investment in vacant and derelict land.

Funding Sources

There is a fair amount of funding both specifically for vacant and derelict land as well as for its end uses, as a review of funding sources has found[2]. This includes all sizes and types of project with a whole range of organisations being eligible – ranging from local authorities to community groups. However, often multiple income streams are required to reduce risk to funders and some funds may seem extensive but have strict requirements and may be very competitive. As all experienced funders know, research and preparation are key to seeing projects come into fruition.

To help you wade through the funding options, the findings from the review of funding sources and a handy table are on our website.[3]

Vacant and derelict land is contributing nothing to Scotland’s wellbeing, economy or environment. Echoing Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, Roseanna Cunningham, at the Commission’s conference last month – “we have to do better.”

Hopefully these tools will help to support action on the ground.


We would love to hear from you if you have or are interested in using the framework. Please email for more information.


[1] Peter Brett Associates & SLC (2019) Vacant and Derelict Land in Scotland Assessing the Impact of Vacant and Derelict Land on Communities

[2] Ryden (2019) Funding Sources for Bringing Vacant and Derelict Land Back in to Use

[3] These are an overview of current funding sources and may need revising in future.

Guest Blog: Taskforce Work Shadow

In this blog, Sophie, a high school student from Perthshire, talks about her work shadow experience with the Scottish Land Commission where she attended a meeting of the Vacant and Derelict Taskforce.

Sophie blog
Sophie (left) with Shona Glenn, Head of Research and Policy

My name is Sophie and I am a high school student from Perthshire, hoping to study Geography at university. I am interested in urban regeneration and am researching the ‘Guggenheim effect’ that the new V&A museum has had in Dundee for my Extended Project Qualification (EPQ).

As part of the research for my EPQ, I attended a Holyrood Policy event on Urban Transformation and Regeneration – that’s where I first met two representatives of the Scottish Land Commission and learned about their work. I then contacted the Commission to ask if there might be an opportunity for me to take part in work-shadowing in order to learn more about Scotland’s land, and I was invited to a meeting of the Vacant and Derelict Land Taskforce in Edinburgh.

In the meeting, we reviewed a report, which property surveyors Ryden LLP had created, in order to better understand the problems which cause Scotland’s VDL. We then discussed the best approaches for improving the areas. I was particularly thrilled to be discussing possible solutions to real life problems with people who could actually affect change in a meaningful way rather than hurry off to their next lesson and forget all about it!

I really enjoyed the meeting and having the opportunity to talk to many professionals in a field that fascinates me. Much of what I learnt has benefited my EPQ project as the Dundee Waterfront was largely VDL and therefore intensely relevant. The Scottish Land Commission are doing important work in engaging with local communities to ensure that Scotland’s beautiful and precious land is used as effectively as possible for its inhabitants and I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to be involved.

Regional Land Use Partnerships

The Scottish Government has asked the Land Commission to advise on the establishment of regional land use partnerships, a commitment in the 2019 Programme for Government. Here, Chief Executive Hamish Trench looks at what we’ll need to consider.

The Scottish Land Commission is shaping a coherent programme of land reform spanning urban and rural land to improve the productivity, diversity and accountability of the way Scotland’s land is owned and used. The way we own and use land is central to big public polHamish - portrait 003icy challenges including climate action, productivity, and a fair economy. Reforms to both land ownership and use are needed to unlock opportunities for inclusive growth and to make the most of our land for common good. Our conference last month highlighted some of the strong connections between land, climate and a fair economy.

In addition to our ongoing work, the Scottish Government has asked the Land Commission to advise on the establishment of regional land use partnerships to maximise the potential of Scotland’s land in taking action on climate change.

Scotland’s land resource is the reason our climate target for net zero emissions is set ahead of the rest of the UK. That we have the technical ability to make a major contribution to climate action through land use is not in doubt. Our challenge and opportunity is to deliver this and to do it in a fair and productive way. The Scottish Government wants to establish regional land use partnerships and frameworks to drive this action.

Scotland’s Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement and the Land Use Strategy both remind us that delivering public value from our land is as much about governance, participation and accountability, as it is about technical management practices.

So as we look at how best regional land use partnerships could be established, we should all challenge ourselves on what kind of structures and powers are needed, both to deliver the scale and pace of action required, and also to widen participation, empowerment and benefit in decisions about land. We will need to be clear about the purpose of partnerships and the governance arrangements that follow.

Regional and place-based leadership is increasingly at the heart of Scotland’s wider approach to inclusive economic growth, for example through Regional Economic Partnerships. The recent Planning Act also requires the development of Regional Spatial Strategies. It seems natural that we should connect wider land use choices and opportunities into this regional context.

The new partnerships bring opportunities to ensure people are more engaged in decisions about land use change, helping unlock the economic, social and environmental opportunities for communities and land managers, and supporting local action.

We know many people and organisations have supported the idea of regional land use partnerships for some time. Now we have an opportunity to move forward and put in place partnerships that will have real influence and impact.

The Land Commission intends to report to Ministers with proposals in mid-2020 and will publish a scoping paper early in the new year seeking views and engagement. We will welcome wide engagement to make the most of this opportunity for reform, so that we can develop proposals that are sufficiently ambitious, practical and effective.

We are currently recruiting for a fixed term project manager to lead on this work – find out more.