'S' for Smallholding

Smallholding definition

A smallholding is a residential property that is situated within its own land, which in size could be described as being more than a garden, but less than a farm.

In the UK, the land area of a smallholding is generally regarded (by the rule of thumb) as less than 50 acres.

Smallholding Glossary

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Smallholding owners

Smallholding property owners are typically private individuals (and families).

Smallholdings owners are usually attracted to buying this mode of property because they have a desire to be productive on the land.

(Particularly in an agricultural sense.)

Uses of smallholdings

Common uses of smallholding are:

  • mixed crops
  • livestock
  • woodland management

The primary aim with most smallholdings owners is subsistence.

Wanting to produce at least enough for what they and their household needs.

Smallholding for families

Also, owning a smallholding is a favourite ambition amongst parents with young children who value the importance of teaching traditional land-based skills and crafts.

Smallholding communes have been known to spring up after groups of families living in the suburbs or cities pool their finances to acquire a cluster of properties with land.

Smallholding & the environment

Another popular motivation for owners choosing a smallholding property is a desire to minimise their impact or footprint on the environment.

The smallholding lifestyle offers some ecologically-friendly benefits, such as wood-fired heating and cooking, natural spring water supply etc.

The off-grid ambition is a large draw to the smallholding life.

Financially viable smallholding

Because of the rural nature of smallholding living, the lifestyle naturally comes with a certain degree of isolation.

It makes sense that people who work from home remotely (e.g. telecommuters) are best suited as owners, or those having a passion for a land-based project.

That said, the financial undertakings of acquiring a smallholding can be risky especially where debt leverage is used.

The pressure therefore can be significant from day one of ownership to make it financially rewarding.

It is critical, therefore, that a detailed business plan with financial projections over 6 years is produced well in advance of investment.

Also, practical, hand-on work experience is essential.

This way, potential owners give themselves reassurance of ‘really knowing what they’re up against’ before they begin.

Making a living on a smallholding

One of the distinct economic benefits of smallholding living is the diversity of ways in which you can make a living off the land.

Smallholdings are really small mixed farms allowing a range of uses within a relatively small acreage – giving a high yield potential to owners.

They are even seen by internationally recognised agricultural professional bodies as offering more profitable per acre than an industrial farm set-up.

Cash crops are a common favourite agri-product among smallholding owners. This trade involves growing profitable niche food products (e.g. organic eggs), which are produced to premium-quality specification and sold within a medium-high price bracket and marketed to both commercial and household buyers.

This mode of business tends to benefit from:

  • high margins,
  • loyal customer base and
  • abundant word-of-mouth marketing.

Other names for a smallholding

A smallholding is otherwise (depending on which country you are in) commonly known as a:

  • homestead (US)
  • croft (Scotland)
  • small estate

Smallholding and politics

Running a smallholding, globally, is STILL the most common livelihood for people today in the 21st century.

In the UK however, smallholdings have faced a political storm of sorts which in many ways have made then unfavourable investment prospects.

In 1908 the Smallholdings and Allotments Act gave county councils and unitary powers in the UK imperative to reclaim land assets.

The move came with a mandate for councils to preserve, protect and provide land productivity and labour on a small scale in local UK communities.

In the interwar years, England’s county councils went on a kind of acquisition spree building up their books of land and operational farms.

(From Who Owns England blog – whoownsengland.org)

It was not long after though, circa 1970’s that councils came upon hard times.

They were forced to sell off their land assets and the market became awash with lots of smallholding properties in need of care and new owners.

Between 1979 and 2018 it is estimated that county-owned farmland has halved in size.

A current conservative estimate of total county council-owned green-land in the UK is 843,550 acres, covering everything from county farms to down-land. (Source)

Yet with an industrialised economy that concentrates productivity within large commercial outfits…

And barring sufficient earning potential from the average entrepreneurial-minded person (without a mortgage)…

…getting a viable smallholding off the ground in these times is quite an evasive target.

But hope is on the way…

Benefits for smallholding

There are many reasons why owning a productive smallholding is a worthwhile endeavour.

Here are just a few:

Diversity of production

Smallholdings are usually a mixed economy. They are usually set up to have a diversity of use.

The inclination of owners is to get the most out of their surroundings.

As self-sustainability is usually the primary goal…

…the demand for a wide range of produce (according to the households general need) naturally leads to adopting many types of production methods.


No matter how intensive industry gets it simply can’t beat the profit potential of smallholder living.

The family as a unit of productivity has far more agility and adaptability than even the most innovative commercial enterprise and therefore can squeeze out much more profit per acre by comparison.

Run well, a smallholding offers great income generation potential for even the smallest of families.

Lower impact

Smallholdings with a bit of land give plenty of scope to experiment with lessening your pollution imprint on the environment.

Practices such as using wind turbines or solar panels for electricity generation are among the many to try out.


Ownership of production is a key benefit from many.

Wanting to become weaned from the major-multiple supply chain and onto homegrown produce is a dream for many urban homeowners, but a distinct reality with even the smallest of smallholders.

Multi-generational labour

Because of all the manual labour involved, owning and running a smallholding is definitely a team endeavour.

The more hands on deck the better.

Children working beside parents is the very heart and soul of smallholding.

Local employment

Hired help is a common necessity of small holding.

Often (and when it really matters) recruiting some local hands is a real bailout when you’re in over your head in physical things to do.

Having some employment to offer is a plus with smallholding.

How do you get into smallholding?

Step #1 – Get acquainted with rural life

If you aren’t already immersed in the rural way of life, your first step is to get a prolonged taste.

Perhaps get a short let in one rural location after another to get a feel for the kind of environment will best suit you personally.

Coastal rural‘ is different from ‘landlocked’, for example, so knowing what’s what will help you make a more satisfying investment.

Step #2 – Decide on living quarters & key features

For your family to be productive, you’ll need to be comfortable.

Having the most optimal layout, setting and on-site amenities will help you get the most out of your working days on the land.

Choose the most suitable features of property to suit your personal needs.

Step #3 – Think business!

A happy smallholding is a profitable smallholding.

You must get rewards for you labour.

Your time and your efforts alone do carry a cost. You could always be spending your time alternatively doing something else which is fruitful.

So make sure you are serious about your pounds and pence in your occupation of the land. It’s only realistic.

Make a sound business plan and get commercially savvy with some research and perhaps investing in some online business/marketing courses.

Step #4 – Look for the ideal property

Search the UK market for a smallholding for sale.

There are so many features, layouts, areas, prices – that it can be quite a daunting task to find one to these.

Listen in to online property bulletin board discussions to get a better handle on what’s on offer.

Now over to you…

Are you new to smallholding and are considering your 1st steps in planning?

Have you already bought your 1st smallholding investment and could have done with more help?

Either way, we’re interested to hear from you.

Leave a comment below.

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