PEMBROKESHIRE’S 47 council owned farms could be sold off in the future due to financial challenges but “all options are open.”

A large piece of work examining the county farm estate which aims to be a gateway into farming for young people and what it contributes to the local authority will be carried out by a task and finish group.

The policy and pre-decision overview and scrutiny committee agreed on September 20 that a group be set up to “to establish whether the previously agreed recommendations remain valid or whether these need updating to reflect both the statutory position and also the council’s overall financial position.”

Members added that when setting up its terms of reference that the group consider a ‘pioneer share offer scheme’, the impact on the local community any changes may have, the most appropriate way to consult on the review to ensure increased participation and the wider national farming policy changes underway.

Cabinet member Cllr Bob Kilmister said he did not believe the council achieved a reasonable return from its investment in the estate and would like an in-depth review.

The farm estate could have a potential value of £8million to £30million, the member for finance said, depending on property values and made a return of £248,000 in 2017.

The share scheme had worked in other areas, said Cllr Cris Tomos, who proposed the idea, but would take on a national aspect given the values involved in Pembrokeshire.

He told the committee about a scheme in France where people raised funds to buy a number of hectares to be held as a corporate trust and a similar scheme in Cambridgeshire.

“Could we test the market and work out if this was appropriate in Pembrokeshire so that the 47 farms are held in trust for the benefit of future generations of farmers?” Cllr Tomos asked.

A farmer himself, Cllr John Davies highlighted the value of the estate was more than financial with the importance of agriculture to the county as one of its few remaining industries.

He felt there was a “deficit of understanding of agriculture in this authority” and retaining the farms should be looked at.

“They do make a significant contribution beyond a return and capital. You can only cash it in once,” he added.

Tenancy agreements and how they are managed also need scrutiny the committee heard as well as what impacts Brexit and Welsh Government policy may have.

It was agreed that Cllrs Rhys Sinnett, Tony Baron, Elwyn Morse – who has a farming background – Mike Evans and Michael James form a task and finish group with their initial report due in March 2019.