Lease restrictions could hamper tenant farmers

Scotland’s tenant farmers fear that regulatory restrictions in the current agricultural holdings legislation could see them frozen out of future policy options which are aimed at addressing the climate change and biodiversity emergencies.

STFA chair, Christopher Nicholson
STFA chair, Christopher Nicholson

While the recommendation that measures such as investment in renewables , the adoption of energy efficient processes, agroforestry and taking a long-term view to improve soil health and soil carbon should play a key role in future policy have been widely welcomed, the Scottish Tenant Farmers Association fears their sector could be barred from participation due to the restrictive nature of their leases.

STFA chair, Christopher Nicholson said that without changes to tenancy legislation, the sector could be left disenfranchised from future policy:

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“It is high time that our politicians and policy makers recognised that there are a number of obstacles facing the tenant farmers which must be addressed if we are to see a level playing field between owner occupiers and tenants with nobody left behind.

In an annexe to the Farming for 1.5 degrees report, he said that tenancy legislation which had been developed over the past 150 years had focused on the traditional roles of food production and the maintenance of agricultural productivity:

“Non-agricultural diversifications, including tree planting and environmental measures, don’t sit well with existing tenancy legislation. Although there have been some changes to tenancy law aimed at permitting tree planting and other diversifications, the experience of the last two decades shows that there are still obstacles to diversification for farm tenants.

Nicholson also expressed concerns that new entrants and those on short-term leases would be excluded from the move towards long term environmental and conservation measures:

“As any farmer will know, improving soil health and increasing soil carbon are long term operations over decades and in many cases require significant on farm investment. A tenant with short term lets is unlikely to make that level of commitment and investment,” he said.

But the organisation also saw a second additional threat to their ranks over and above the need to update legislation:

“…some of the proposals, eg re-wilding and forestry, may prove more attractive for a landlord than having an agricultural tenant, especially on the more upland areas, the traditional route into farming for new blood. This risk could be mitigated by ensuring a robust link between future support and continued agricultural activity.

And he added that more consideration was required of the effects of tree planting targets on the tenanted sector:

“Current fiscal and subsidy support make commercial afforestation an attractive option for landlords who take land out of the tenanted sector for planting and deny new blood the traditional upland route into farming.”

Nicholson pointed out that the previous Scottish Government had promised a level playing field for tenant farmers, to allow equal access to benefit from future policy for both tenants and owner occupiers. And he added that any new bill to replace the CAP should be tested to ensure fair access for tenants, and include the changes required to remove the barriers for tenants.

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