Tenants and union warn of ‘land grab’ threat

With only weeks left for the Scottish Government to finalise its intentions for the reformed common agricultural policy (CAP), industry groups have been voicing serious concerns over how the plans look to be shaping up.

NFUS and the STFA issued a plea to stem land grab. Picture: Ian Rutherford
NFUS and the STFA issued a plea to stem land grab. Picture: Ian Rutherford

Yesterday both NFU Scotland and the Scottish Tenant Farmers Association(STFA) issued a plea for immediate moves to stem an ongoing “land grab” – as landowners who have traditionally let their land out take it back in hand in the hope that they might benefit from direct support payments under the new CAP.

Traditional grass lets – where livestock producers rent in fields of grass to graze their stock over summer on a short-term let – have been particularly hard hit. With 2015 resetting the benchmark for area-based claims, the option for landowners to take land in-hand and make the claims themselves has been called a “speculators’ charter”.

The union called on the Scottish Government to make an announcement immediately on the issue and fulfil its promise to favour active farmers. Limiting payments to claims made in 2013 – a move allowed under EU rules to discourage speculation – and creating a robust negative list of eligible activities would, according to the union, ensure funds were preserved for real producers.

And union president Nigel Miller warned that failure to take these options on board would undermine production “not just over the next year of uncertainty - but… right up to 2020”.

“Despite repeated calls from NFUS and other stakeholders for that 2013 reference period to be adopted, there has been no indication from Scottish Government that it will take up that opportunity to underpin active farming,” said Miller.

“If the Scottish Government dithers and lets this drift until 2015, then we will see more tenanted and let land pulled back in hand, the land market destabilised and great upset caused to active and potential farmers.”

STFA chairman Christopher Nicolson echoed these fears and added that much damage had already been done as landlords and their agents manoeuvred to repossess land – a process which had given the STFA huge concerns for the future of let land in Scotland.

He said that, without immediate action to halt the grab, much of the recent work of which had gone into reinvigorating the tenanted sector would be put in jeopardy.

“As Scotland contemplates what will be the biggest reform to its tenanted sector since 1948 it is vitally important the CAP reform helps rather than hinders this process,” he said.