Tenants ‘must resist coercion on rent hikes’

WITH the November term date approaching for farm rent reviews to be concluded, the Scottish Tenant Farmers’ Association yesterday issued its blunt view of the situation. According to chairman Angus McCall, “realistically rent rises are not on the cards”.

He added that attempts by land agents and factors to bounce tenants into agreeing high rents on the back of a poor harvest and steadily rising input costs had to be firmly resisted.

“The livestock sector has seen some buoyancy restored but this must be set against steeply rising costs of fuel, feed and fertilisers,” he said. “Tenants must not fall prey to predations and become coerced into paying too much. Settled rents will stand for three years. As well as the risk of input costs increasing in times of high economic uncertainty, we also face climate unpredictability.

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“Experience over recent seasons have proved this can have a huge effect on farm production costs and profitability.”

McCall also said that delays in the landmark Moonzie appeal case from the Court of Session, which was heard in May of this year, meant that there were still no benchmarks or guidelines on many aspects of farm rents, such as the single farm payment to help settle rents.

He also alleged there was evidence of some land agents “using strong-arm tactics with demands for eye-watering rents”.

Part of this tactic, he added was the threat of taking reluctant tenants to the Land Court with its associated high costs in order to force rents to unsustainable levels. This showed little willingness to negotiate reasonably with tenants, he claimed.

To address the mounting frustration and disappointment being currently felt by many farm tenants on this, he indicated he had written to the Scottish Government cabinet secretary for justice, Kenny MacAskill, pointing out the concerns.

In settling rents, he advised tenants to remember that CAP reform was in the wings, yet another unknown variable for tenants in any rent change.

Taking a broad view, he described the current rent review system as “no longer fit for purpose and in need of an overhaul”.

He concluded: “STFA is working with the Scottish Government, other rural stakeholders and the rural affairs committee to get a fairer, cheaper and workable system in place as soon as possible.”