2014 – International Year of the Family Farm

2014 – International Year of the Family Farm

2014 – International Year of the Family Farm

 Published in Press and Journal 29th March 2014

Angus McCall

Last December the UN General Assembly designated 2014 as the International Year of the Family Farm.  This has gone virtually unnoticed in Scotland although family farms are seen globally as the bedrock of sustainable agriculture, vital to food security and the environment.  Their value isn’t limited to small landholders in developing countries, they are equally important in larger scale farming systems such as in Scotland.  EU Commissioner Dacian Ciolos has attached huge importance to family farming in CAP reforms so maybe it is now time to move this topic up the Scottish political agenda?

 Family farms come in all shapes and sizes.  Some develop into large-scale agri-businesses which may be viewed as an inevitable consequence of the market place as producers strive towards greater efficiency with economies of scale.  However, is bigger better?  The agricultural sector is becoming increasingly dominated by a few very large players and we only need to look to the consequences of supermarket monopolies and domination to decide if this is always desirable.

 Accelerating land and rental values have made land unaffordable to all but very large businesses.  Although the pressure on smaller family farms doesn’t get much media attention, the family farm is used to stimulate the public’s interest in farming and food production making programmes more folksy and interesting for general consumption.  BBC’s popular “Lambing Live” currently has viewers tuning in nightly to get a glimpse of the trials, tribulations and triumphs of the lambing shed on several family farms throughout Scotland.  We step into the everyday lives of these families where continuity and succession is fundamental to their small businesses which successfully contribute to the wider economy and community life of the Scottish countryside.

 However the desire to pass on small family businesses isn’t exclusive to owner occupied farms.  Many tenanted livestock farms in Scotland have been in the same family for many generations and these tenant farmers would also like their successors to follow in their footsteps inheriting their farms and skills and knowledge which have been honed over many generations.  Government statistics reveal that the number of tenanted family farms in Scotland continues to diminish at the alarming rate of around a 100 farms being lost annually to the sector.  So just what is happening to those farms, farmhouses and businesses?  Is the role of the family farm in danger of being overlooked in Scotland?

 Whilst this uncomfortable aspect of family farming may be too hot a political potato for the media, it is not going to go away until it’s acknowledged and addressed.  Both land reform and farm tenancies are currently in the spotlight with review reports due later this year.  The Scottish government is looking at ways of stimulating the sector and encouraging new entrants.  Accessibility and long-term security of tenure of land have to be main objectives for any sustainable future of the tenancy system

 2014, the International year of the Family Farm has never looked like a better time to re-evaluate the role of the tenanted family farm in Scotland and realise the full potential of this very neglected sector of our rural and national economy.

28th March 2014



PERCENTAGE OF TENANTED FARM LAND BY PARISH IN 2013 (excluding tenanted croft land).

Please click on the link below to view the map-


The map shows the density of tenanted land per parish. It was produced by the Scottish Government. Please note, that where there are only a small number of tenants in a particular parish, these farms have not been included due to Data Protection legislation.

The Scottish Government Tenancy map has been edited by Andy Wightman to show some of the large estates and their dominant position over large areas of Scotland’s best agricultural land. Thanks to Andy for allowing the reproduction of his work. Please click the link below to view:

If you are interested in following Andy’s blog it can be found on his web page- www.andywightman.com



The Scottish Tenant Farmers Association is cautioning land agents against expecting large rent rises in 2014.  Reacting to Smiths Gore’s claims that Scottish rents in 2013 rose at their fastest rate since 2009 STFA has warned that with CAP support set to rapidly decline over the next few years there is absolutely no justification for further rent hikes in the coming year.

 Chairman Christopher Nicholson said: “Land agents must moderate their expectations for rent demands, particularly in the intensive livestock sector where the pain of CAP reform will be the most acutely felt.  Scottish tenants have seen regular 3 yearly rent increases over the last decade and it is now time to pause rent reviews while we adjust to the new CAP regime and allow the Agricultural Holdings Review to come to its conclusions.  Landowners have called a halt to letting land meantime and it is only right that rent reviews are also put on hold.

 “Smiths Gore’s rental figures add further proof of the pressing need for changes to rent reviews as we see the gap between open market rents in England and regulated traditional tenancies widening.  Open market rents south of the border are increasing at twice the rate of traditional tenancies.  According to Smiths Gore’s figures, arable open market rents in 2013 have risen by 57% to average £160/ac whilst arable rent on AHA traditional tenancies have risen by 30% to average £85/ac.

 “The restricted market for tenancies in Scotland has led to some massive rents which will inevitably drive all rents upwards with little prospect of ever falling.  Unlike Scotland, England operates a two tier system with no direct comparison made between sitting traditional tenants rents and open market rents.  As a result long-term tenants in England are not subject to the same rental pressure as their counterparts north of the border.

 “STFA has been arguing for years now that Scotland must move to a similar two tier rental system by removing open market comparables in favour of basing farm rents on what the farm is capable of producing and its potential earnings.  Already we are seeing some savage rental increases as a consequence of an over-heated open market.  Moreover, due to difficulties in resolving disputes, tenants now feel they are powerless to resist unreasonable rent demands as the alternative is an expensive, time consuming and stressful appeal to the Land Court.

 “STFA will be meeting the Agricultural Holdings Group shortly and is in the process of analysing responses from our survey of members who have, almost unanimously, called for a long overdue overhaul of the rent system.   In responding, 88% of tenants thought the rent review process was becoming unworkable, 95% would like to see rents reflecting the productive capacity of the farm and 90% would like to see a statutory cap placed on annual rent increases.

 “In contrast with most commercial situations, rent reviews are the single most contentious issue and cause the greatest disruption in relationships between landlord and tenant.  It is high time that this festering sore was dealt with and we hope the Review Group will now do so once and for all.”




The Scottish Tenant Farmers Association is delighted at the news that the Scottish Government, through the Forestry Commission, is releasing another starter farm at at Achnamoine, near Halkirk in Caithness.  This will be the eighth starter unit in Scotland and the first in the Highlands.
Welcoming the announcement STFA spokesman Angus McCall, who farms in Sutherland, said;  “This is good news and I am pleased that the Scottish Government is sticking to its commitment to roll out starter farms throughout Scotland and I am also pleased to note that the intention with the Caithness unit is to integrate farming with woodland management, which makes sense.
“The tenancy market has all but dried up and new entrants are finding it harder and harder to find land to farm.  The private sector has shown little interest in creating a starter unit programme since new entrants became a priority for the Scottish Government.  The Forestry Commission starter farm programme is now virtually the only route into a tenanted farm for a new entrant and new units will inevitably be heavily subscribed.  Aspiring Scottish new entrants will look wistfully over the border where the 2700 county council farms provide regular opportunities for new entrants.  Scottish Ministers are the largest landowner in Scotland and I am sure that there must be scope for creating more agricultural units, even if they were not to be equipped to the same standard as the Forestry Commission ones.
“This is an exciting chance for a new entrant to make a start in farming.  Caithness is a very productive stock farming area with a vibrant farming community and an active Young Farmers Club.  I am sure any new entrant will soon find himself at home and taking advantage of the many opportunities that will present themselves in such a keen livestock area.”




 The Scottish Tenant Farmers Association joins the whole agricultural industry in mourning the loss of Joe Watson, award winning farming editor of the Press and Journal who sadly passed away yesterday.

STFA Director Angus McCall said; “I have known Joe since he became editor for the P & J and have always had a huge respect for his honesty, integrity and tenacity as an agricultural journalist.   He was never frightened to ask those difficult questions and relentless in pursuit of an answer.  Big Joe will be sorely missed amongst not only the agricultural community in the North, but all over Scotland.  Our sympathy lies with his family and close friends at this difficult time.”




The Scottish Tenant Farmers Association has greeted the proposal from SL &E for an amnesty for tenants’ improvements as a step in the right direction.

Responding to the landlords’ proposals STFA Chairman Christopher Nicholson said:  “Although we have been discussing way-go compensation in the TFF ad nauseum over a decade, this proposal has now come out of the blue.  Whilst we  welcome the general thrust of these proposals it is difficult to understand why this extremely contentious issue has never been resolved or concluded and is now being  brought up at the eleventh hour in the wake of a ministerial led review of Ag Holdings.

“Compensation for improvements and rent reviews are the most contentious issues between landlords and tenants and little or no progress has been made on these in the TFF.   This suggestion of an amnesty could have been made long before now  rather than coming as a knee jerk reaction from an organisation, obviously feeling under pressure.  This is a very complex subject and the SL& E proposal needs to be studied in detail before STFA makes its recommendations to the Review Group.

 “If such an amnesty is to take place it must have a statutory basis and any disputes over the eligibility of an improvement must be referred to an independent panel of experts.  Many landlords will undoubtedly resist this proposal even if it has the backing of SL&E and the tenanted sector must not find itself tied up in endless expensive legal wrangles.  We have already seen how ready some landlords and their professional advisors are to challenge parliamentary legislation.”

“STFA has just concluded a comprehensive survey of members which has given the association compelling evidence of dire situations which many tenants find themselves in.  These results give STFA the mandate to call for radical change.  Way-go compensation is highlighted as one of the major concerns of tenants with 85% of respondents believing they would not receive proper compensation should their tenancies come to an end.  This is unacceptable in a modern inclusive society and the results of the survey will be published in full shortly.

“It has also to be remembered that any legislative change will not take place for at least two years and provision must be made to safeguard the interests of tenants whose tenancies will come to an end in the interim.”

Scottish Lands and Estates press release can be found at:


Tenants optimistic about Holdings review

Tenants optimistic about Holdings review


The Scottish Tenant Farmers Association has welcomed the Scottish Government’s call for evidence launched today as part of the review of agricultural holdings led by the Cabinet Secretary, Richard Lochchead.  The Review Group has set out its vision for a dynamic and successful tenant farming sector and is now inviting people with relevant experience and insights to contribute evidence and views.

STFA chairman Christopher Nicholson said:  “Policy making decisions emerging from this review will have far reaching consequences for the next few generations of tenant farmers and it is vitally important the government gets it right.  The Review Group’s vision of the future shape of tenant farming is a useful starting point for what will be a long journey.  Times have changed since the last major shake up of tenancy law in 1948 and there is an urgent need to ensure that our tenancy system is fit for the challenges of modern day agriculture.

“STFA is pleased that the Review Group will, amongst other issues, be giving consideration to the absolute right to buy for tenant farmers in secure 1991 secure tenancies.  We hope that this debate will take place in a rational and informed manner taking account of what will be in the long-term public interest of rural Scotland, its economy and communities and the future of agricultural production.

“STFA is just concluding an extensive survey of members and early indications show a desire for radical change.  We will be representing our members’ views and aspirations to the Review Group and will arrange farm visits so the group members can see and appreciate the challenges tenants face first hand.  We will also be encouraging our members to approach the group directly.  There is undoubtedly a mood for change amongst tenant farmers and an optimism that this will be translated into action.”

Angus Mccall – Comment in Press and Journal

Angus Mccall – Comment in Press and Journal

2014  – Year of Change?

19th February 2014

 2014 looks set to be a seminal year for the tenanted sector of Scottish farming.  Reviews on land and tenancy reform against the backdrop of a new CAP regime and Scottish referendum in September promise the ingredients in a recipe for potentially positive change.  Land reform and tenancies are now in the spotlight, and high time too.

 This is welcome news as the intervening decade since the last attempt at tenancy reform has seen the sector take a serious battering.  The 2003 Act, despite its good intentions, has been continuously challenged, relationships between landlords and tenants have deteriorated, the let land market has closed down and opportunities for new entrants have all but disappeared.

The cross industry stakeholder body the TFF has become an ineffectual talking shop, failing to address the central isues holding back the tenanted sector.  Inhibited by powerful sectoral vested interests, it was always doomed as a handy patch of long grass for tricky problems and is now facing redundancy with the advent of the ministerial tenancy review.

Having given the industry a sporting chance to sort itself out, Cabinet Secretary Lochhead’s patience has now worn thin and he has taken personal charge of this all-important review of agricultural holdings.  He has a well balanced team and I hope they will grasp the nettle and recommend some far-reaching changes to the tenancy system.

Travelling around Scotland over the last decade visiting tenant farmers I have witnessed the consequences of lack of confidence and short-termism.  Seasonal lets, short term tenancies and contract farming do not encourage investment in land and infrastructure.  Empty farms, farmhouses and degraded land are testimony to lost opportunities for new entrants and the under-utilisation of any nation’s two most fundamental assets of their land and people.

Yet it needn’t be like this.  The demand for production exists. The food and drink sector is burgeoning at home and abroad with plenty room for expanding exports. There is a new generation of enterprising young people waiting , full of ideas and eager to farm the land.  The burning issue is of course, access to land, both for new entrants and for those wanting to grow and develop their businesses.

Scotland has a highly regulated tenancy sector as an inevitable consequence of its concentrated pattern of landownership where an estimated 430 or so individuals, out of a population of 5.3M, own half of Scotland.  This is a serious statistic worth taking stock of.  Richard Lochhead’s review group has set out its vision of what it believes a dynamic and successful tenanted sector will look like in the future to meet the aspirations of the Scottish Government.  However , the challenge it really faces is whether that vision can be achieved within our present land tenure structure or will more root and branch reform be needed?

The tenant farming population is now engaging in the process, looking forward to contributing to the debate and providing the evidence needed to bring about reform.  There is a huge appetite for positive change and wider opportunities for successive generations to participate in a fairer, more inclusive rural economy.  Let’s hope this will be met with the action needed to rejuvenate land tenure and bring about this brighter future which the rural communities of Scotland now so desperately need and deserve.




The Scottish Tenant Farmers Association is asking all tenant farmers to take the time to respond to the Scottish Government’s tenancy survey and in doing so to ensure they complete the correct survey form.

The Scottish Government is currently surveying tenant farmers to inform the Agricultural Holdings Review taking place under the chairmanship of Cabinet Secretary Richard Lochhead.  Survey questionnaires accompanied by a Freepost return envelope have now been sent to all tenant farmers who also have the option to respond online.

 All responses are being treated in strictest confidence, but each one has a unique reference number to ensure the integrity of the survey.  STFA is cautioning tenants and owner occupiers that any photocopied of the Ipsos Mori forms will invalidate their return.  The Association has been made aware that some tenants have been provided with copied questionnaires from sources other than Ipsos Mori and is concerned that this may affect the survey findings

 STFA Chairman Christopher Nicholson said: “This tenancy survey will be one of the most important to land on tenants’ and owner occupiers doorsteps and we would encourage all tenants to respond as soon as possible as it is important for their views to be heard.  This review represents a unique chance to reform and re-invigorate the tenanted sector, but the Review Group needs to have a clear picture of not only tenancy statistics, but also the wide ranging views of tenant farmers and owner occupiers who rent in land.

“STFA is conducting its own survey so that we can accurately represent the views of our members to the Review group and are encouraging members to respond to both questionnaires”

The Scottish Government will be issuing reminders to those who haven’t responded in the next week or so.  If any tenant has not yet received a questionnaire or is concerned they should contact David Myers of Ipsos Mori on 0808 231 5376 or Fiona Leslie on 0131 244 9920.




Responding to the consultation on the Remedial Order to amend the 2003 Act following the Salvesen Riddell case, the Scottish Tenant Farmers association has said that the Scottish Government should not abdicate its responsibility and must act to protect the interests of affected tenants who now stand to lose homes and livelihoods.

 The Remedial Order seeks to grant vacant possession to landlords who had served notice to quit on their tenants in the relevant period in 2003.  This will inevitably lead to some tenants losing their farms unless the mediation process proposed by the Government can broker a deal between landlord and tenant.

 STFA is concerned that the government has made no move to accept responsibility for the situation that these tenants now find themselves in.  Following a meeting with affected tenants STFA’s Angus McCall said;  “It would appear that these tenants are in danger of being hung out to dry.  The government must commit to compensating tenants for their loss of their farms.

“The Cabinet Secretary’s statement to the RACCE committee that tenant’s claims for compensation will receive “sympathetic” treatment is scant comfort to tenants and their families who now face an uncertain future. It must be remembered that tenants merely acted within the legislative framework provided to them and against the backdrop of the intention of Parliament.  It is therefore important that they should not be prejudiced for acting within the remit of the law and following professional guidance.  They will pay both a financial and ‘emotional’ price given, as we all appreciate not only is it their businesses but families that are affected.

Commenting on the situation one disillusioned tenant affected by the order said: “I cannot stress strongly enough the damage done to family life over the past 10 years.  Apart from the considerable financial outlay, which I can quantify, the biggest issue for me is the fact that my professional ability as a farmer and businessman were continually slandered, thus holding my whole business back and depriving me of opportunities.  Banks, solicitors, land agents and suppliers put me through the mill.  Our human rights have been violated through no fault of our own.   It looks as though I am being left once again to sort out this mess which is not what we were promised.”