Reports Sustainable Farming Campaign

Beyond the farmgate: Unlocking the path to farmer-focused supply chains and climate-friendly, agroecological food systems

The evidence is clear that the current food system, and specifically the infrastructure and supply chains that serve it, are not fit for farming or consumers. This new report digs into the results from our survey of 500 farmers, with recommendations on how better systems can be created to benefits farmers, the environment and the public.


Infrastructure like grading, storage, processing, packaging, distribution and trading of food is highly centralised, large-scale and suited to complex, opaque and long-distance supply chains. The current food system is a driving force for dangerous climate change, nature loss and societal inequality.

With the market researcher Agrismart, the Sustain alliance has explored how 500 farmers from across England and Wales feel about these issues. The group of farmers surveyed were a representative sample of English and Welsh agriculture—e.g. large, medium, small, arable, livestock, poultry, pigs, dairy, horticulture, and mixed farms.

The results suggest that many farmers want to have access to locally based infrastructure and to shift partly, or fully, into farmer-focused supply chains. For instance, 56% of respondents said they want to supply into a different market and a further 20% said they would consider this.

The top four infrastructure needs were: an established food hub, box scheme and/or farmers’ market (51%); a local independent retailer (28%); a local packer and/or distributor (28%); and/or their own retail space (26%). Over 50% of respondents want to join or start a cooperative or farmer buying group, with another 25% saying they would consider this.

The main perceived benefits farmers saw for changing supply chains were better margins, more direct links to the customer, delivering more for climate and nature, and building more resilience into the business. Many also felt that changing supply chains would help them deliver on soil management, animal welfare, public engagement and better wages for staff. As one farmer who had made a shift put it, “changing supply chain has supported all of the above.”

To successfully move away from the current approach of supplying into supermarkets and larger processors/manufacturers, farmers said they need better access to local infrastructure, affordable finance, marketing knowledge, and market outlets like established box schemes or food hubs.

There is a clear desire for change when it comes to supply chains. Farmers are keen to diversify their markets and access those which better support their local communities. To achieve this, we propose that the Government, local authorities, Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) and stakeholders (see report page 21 for details):

  • Develop Growth Action Plan(s) to increase the market share of farmer-focused supply chains and local and regional food systems to 25% by 2035;
  • Provide a new finance mechanism (a Local Food Fund) to invest in smaller scale and localised infrastructure and supply chains;
  • Ensure that Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) and other financiers support farmer-focused supply chain investment;
  • Expand on existing funding (i.e. the Future Farm Resilience Fund) to provide more affordable business and marketing advice and data gathering; and
  • Work with local authorities to create a Local Food and Farming Planning Framework that explicitly supports a transition to agroecology, farmer-focused supply chains and local food systems.

Beyond the farmgate: Unlocking the path to farmer-focused supply chains and climate-friendly, agroecological food systems
26pp - 2021 | 1960Kb


Published Monday 25 October 2021

Sustainable Farming Campaign: Sustain encourages integration of sustainable food and farming into local, regional and national government policies.

26pp - 2021


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