Tenancy sector '˜failing to benefit' from land reform

Well-intentioned changes to Scotland's agricultural holdings legislation have spectacularly failed to bring about any reversal in the decline of the farm tenancy sector, statistics have revealed.

Jeremy Moody said there had been 'little sign of success'. Picture: Johnston Press
Jeremy Moody said there had been 'little sign of success'. Picture: Johnston Press

The fourth Scottish agricultural land occupation survey, drawn up by the Central Association of Agricultural Arbiters (CAAV), indicated that the sector in Scotland continued to shrink at a faster rate than that south of the Border.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The report highlighted a further net loss in tenanted land in 2016 of almost 28,000 acres, the largest drop since 2012. The organisation’s secretary and adviser, Jeremy Moody, said that the changes in the new Land Reform Bill had done little to encourage any new landowners to release land under formal tenancy agreements.

Speaking at yesterday’s annual meeting of the Scottish Agricultural Arbiters and Valuers Association, he said that the rate of attrition was deeply depressing in Scotland – with tenanted farms currently accounting for less than 22 per cent of holdings – while the figure remained above 35 per cent in England.

“With much of this decline occurring over the past 20 years, if the alleged aim of making changes to legislation was to reverse this decline then there has been little sign of success,” he said.

Moody also highlighted the fact that, in distinct contrast to 2015, none of the recorded changes in tenancies were given to new entrants in 2016. He said that this could have been a reflection of the entitlements granted to new entrants in 2015 leading to greater uptake in that year.

But, he said that with around 75-80 per cent of any let land becoming vacant normally being re-let, the fact that only 35 per cent had been re-let again in 2016 was indicative of underlying fears and uncertainty in the landowning sector.

The figures also revealed that two-thirds of these new lets were of bare land – a significant move away from the traditional letting of farm units.

Turning his sights on Brexit, Moody said that while big changes might lie ahead these were likely to come as a series of processes rather than as one big, sudden change.

Arguing that “long and varied” transitional arrangements were likely to come into place across many of the areas currently being negotiated he said it could well be 2022 or 2025 before new trade deals would cut in.

“So it is unlikely that there will be one sudden crystallising moment when we suddenly step through a magic door into the post-Brexit world,” he added.

He said that while it was interesting to play with the possible trading and support scenarios the agricultural sector could face, as far as individual businesses were concerned, they should be advised to make themselves as efficient and effective as possible in their own sphere – and even if the operating climate was kinder than many expected, they would be in a good position to take advantage of any opportunities presented.