Tenant farming on the decline

Figures released yesterday by the Scottish Government confirmed there has been a 10 per cent reduction in the number of farm tenancies in Scotland in the past six years.

And within that figures there was a much greater fall in the number of old style secure tenancies with a shift to limited duration deals.

“These figures are not surprising but they are disappointing,” commented Christopher Nicholson, a board member of the Scottish Tenant Farmers Association, which has been pushing for the publication of the statistics.

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The reduction in the tenanted sector had been constant over the past two decades he said and it was obvious that recent changes in legislation had done nothing to reduce the downward drift.

Of equal concern to him was the move away from limited partnerships and secure tenancies into the less secure limited duration agreements. While there had been a slowing down in the loss of tenancies in the period between 2003 and 2007, more recently the reduction rate had increased. He suspected that the forthcoming reform of the Common Agricultural Policy was accelerating both trends.

The total number of holdings with tenancy agreements has decreased steadily by 727 from 7,470 in 2005 to 6,743 in 2011. In the same period, there was a 16 per cent reduction of 1,124 in the number of holdings with either a 91 Act Tenancy or a 91 Act limited partnership agreement bringing the 2011 figure in these categories down to just over 6,000.

Partially offsetting the latter drop there has been an increase in the number of holdings with short limited duration tenancies with figures of 285 in 2005 rising to 499 in 2011. Limited duration tenancies also increased from 99 in 2005 to 301 in 2011.

Cabinet secretary for rural affairs Richard Lochhead said the Scottish Government was committed to working with “a healthy and vibrant tenanted farming sector” and also to working “closely with the Tenant Farming Forum”.

Within the tenanted sector, he saw the moves from one type of tenancy to another as businesses “utilising a range of tenancy solutions to meet their individual business requirements”.

Looking further afield, he said the long-term increase in owner-occupied farms and decrease in rented land was not unique to Scottish agriculture and it reflected broader economic and social aspirations.

“While the introduction of more flexible tenancies in England from 1995 has resulted in increases in rented land, there is concern that security of land tenure has been sacrificed to enable the expansion of existing farms, without necessarily creating new tenancy opportunities,” he said.

“In Scotland, we are taking a different approach of supporting security of tenure while allowing sufficient flexibility within tenancy agreements for individuals who wish to pursue other arrangements.”