Tenant farmers reject latest plan from landowners

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Proposals put forward earlier this week by Scottish landowners to create tenancies with more flexibility were yesterday comprehensively rejected by the Scottish Tenant Farmers Association (STFA), who described the plans as “a recipe for disaster” and “a piece of propaganda that would fool no one”.

And STFA chairman Christopher Nicholson said: “Yet again Scottish Land & Estates have resurrected the old ‘freedom of contract’ chestnut in their long-standing attempt to wind back the clock 60 years to the 1948 Act when tenants were granted security of tenure.”

He added that freedom of contract would only work where there was a balance of supply and demand as existed in the commercial world. “As long as Scotland retains its current concentrated structure of landownership the rented sector will require protective legislation,” he said.

In the landlords’ call to “open up” the current system, they reiterated their belief that it would be beneficial to new entrants.

But Nicholson disputed this view, commenting: “It is disingenuous to suggest that the introduction of freedom of contract will be of any benefit to new entrants when the reality is that the only beneficiaries will be existing farmers prepared to offer inflated rents for short-term arrangements.”

The landowners also highlighted what they called the benefits of the farm business tenancies that operate in England but the STFA contested this.

“New entrants will not have any more of a look-in than they do at present,” said Nicholson. “The advent of farm business tenancies in England has shown that, apart from county council holdings, opportunities for new entrants are just as limited as in Scotland, with rents regularly achieving in excess of £200 per acre.

“In addition, the market-driven rental process in Scotland would see rents for existing tenants soar, severely damaging the viability of many farming businesses.”

STFA said that their organisation had “bent over backwards” in agreeing to legislative change which landlords had said would encourage more land to be let.

They claimed tenancy terms had been made more flexible and fixed equipment rules had been relaxed.

But, despite these moves, the STFA said the tenanted sector was shrinking with very little land offered for rent.