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Tenants urged to respond to Land Reform proposals

Tenants urged to respond to Land Reform proposals

News Release

Scottish Tenant Farmers Association

 7th January 2015

 Tenants urged to respond to Land Reform proposals

The Scottish Tenant Farmers Association is urging tenant farmers to respond to the government consultation on Land Reform before the deadline on 10th February.  The First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced the consultation on the future of Land Reform as part of her programme for government last November.

 The consultation, which is being led by Environment Minister Aileen Mcleod, is seeking views on a radical programme of land reform creating a fairer and more equitable distribution of land in Scotland, delivering greater public benefits through a democratically accountable and a transparent system of land rights which will promote fairness and social justice, environmental sustainability and economic prosperity.

 STFA Chairman Christopher Nicholson said; “This consultation is picking up the threads of the land reform process that was started over a decade ago and it is important the government hears the views from as many people as possible.  This is especially important for tenant farmers who will shortly be debating on the report from the Agricultural Holdings Legislation Review Group.

 “Tenancy reform is an integral part of land reform and we welcome the government’s decision to bring forward legislative reforms to the tenanted sector as part of a land reform bill.  After all the highly regulated and complex tenancy system in Scotland is a direct consequence of the land tenure structure and its future should be considered as part of the wider land reform agenda.  Moreover there will inevitably be significant overlaps between the recommendations of the AHLRG report and the proposals for land reform.  For example, the proposal on the table to give ministers power to intervene “where the scale of landownership or the conduct of a landlord is acting as a barrier to sustainable development” is very similar to the proposal being floated in the AHLRG’s interim report to introduce procedures to enable a tenant to acquire the holding if the landlord was found to be in persistent breach of his contractual obligations.

 “On a practical note, the government’s packed legislative programme leaves a limited amount of time available in this parliamentary session for extra bills and there is a real fear that if legislative time is restricted, an agricultural holdings bill may get shelved until the next parliamentary session.  It may suit landlords to postpone impending changes but it will be devastating for a tenanted sector desperate for reform as soon as practicably possible.

 “STFA will be consulting with its members over the next few weeks, but I would urge all tenant farmers to make their voices heard, either through representative organisations or individually, so we can all play our part in influencing land reform in Scotland and help create a fairer and more equitable society for all.

TENANTS WELCOME LAND REFORM PROPOSALS

TENANTS WELCOME LAND REFORM PROPOSALS

News Release

 Scottish Tenant Farmers Association

 

2nd December 2014

 TENANTS WELCOME LAND REFORM PROPOSALS

The Scottish Tenant Farmers Association has welcomed today’s publication of the Scottish Government’s consultation on the future of land reform Bill in Scotland.  Confirmation that legislation, stemming from the review of agricultural holdings, will be included in a Land Reform Bill to be brought before parliament before the end of the parliamentary session is also excellent news.

 The Scottish Government have announced a wide range of land reform proposals leading towards a more democratically accountable and transparent system of land rights promoting “fairness and social justice, environmental sustainability and economic prosperity”.

 Commenting on the news STFA chairman Christopher Nicholson said; “The Scottish Government has given a clear signal that it is taking the unfinished business of land reform seriously with tenancy reform to be included in a Land Reform Bill.  The let land sector in Scotland is regulated and complex as a direct consequence of Scotland’s tenure structure where over 50% of the land is owned by just over 430 individual and this cannot be healthy.  The sector is largely dominated by relatively few large estates controlled by a small band of land agents and factors and let land is scarce.  The relationship between rent and the productivity of land has now reached unsustainable levels which must be urgently addressed.

 “Tenancy reform must be considered as part of the broader land reform agenda for a more inclusive society and to increase opportunity in the wider rural economy. Scotland’s land and people need a better deal and land reform will unlock underutilised assets for better use by more of the population. Therefore Cabinet Secretary Richard Lochhead’s recent statement that the government will be tackling proposals on land reform and agricultural tenancies in a joined up way is very warmly welcomed.

 “Ministers’ commitment to fairness and equality, social justice and economic prosperity strikes a chord with tenant farmers who have found themselves at the rough end of the imbalance of power over land for the last decade. Since the 2003   Agricultural Holdings Act the tenanted sector has been consistently battered by a series of crippling court cases by legislation which has proven to be no longer fit for purpose.  Rent reviews, as a consequence of the skewed rental market have  now become more of a damage limitation exercise than a routine business negotiation between equals

 “We welcome the intention to give ministers the power to intervene where the scale of land ownership or the conduct of a landowner acts against the interests of sustainable development.  There are Scottish islands and other areas where monopolistic landownership is clearly holding back farming businesses and rural economies and depopulating local communities.  The power of intervention could be managed fairly by either a Land Reform or Tenancy Commission and STFA has made this recommendation to the tenancy review group.

 “These proposals which will unlock the potential of rural Scotland have been eagerly awaited by many who have felt stultified by the concentrated pattern of land tenure.  Land reform is now firmly on the agenda and will dominate discussions over the next few years as we strive to make rural Scotland a better and fairer place.”

STFA SAYS NO TO FORESTRY ON ARABLE LAND

STFA SAYS NO TO FORESTRY ON ARABLE LAND

News Release

Scottish Tenant Farmers Association

2nd December 2014

STFA SAYS NO TO FORESTRY ON ARABLE LAND

 The Scottish Tenant Farmers Association has written to Forestry Commission Scotland to urge it not to plant trees on what was once intensive agricultural land.

 STFA is responding to a consultation being carried out by FCS in Aberdeenshire on tree planting plans on farms purchased by the Commission before the Woodland Expansion Advisory Group (WEAG) curtailed what had been an unbridled acquisition policy buying agricultural land for forestry.

Commenting on the Commission proposals STFA director Angus McCall said; “As a member of the WEAG, we continue to support the recommendations of the group, including the requirement to consult with stakeholder groups and the local community and the recommendations calling on those considering planting whole farms to keep better grades of land in agricultural use.

“The Forestry Commission has led the field in creating starter units for new entrants to farming and has recently had a good track record in responding to concerns raised by tree planting plans.  The consultation on Corniehaugh Farm, for example, seems to have taken account of the wishes on the local community and we hope that these farms will be treated in a similar manner.

“Much of this farmland being considered for woodland creation is productive land.  The arable land at Culdrain, for example, is described by the Forestry Commission themselves as “being mostly intensive agricultural land”, planting with trees would be totally inappropriate.  The land has been recently cropped and the farm would provide an ideal starter unit for a new entrant.  Similarly some of the land at Upper Tullochbeg is good grassland and really should be added to the existing starter farm to increase its viability.  We have also suggested that the better land on the remaining farms be retained in agriculture.

“We acknowledge the need for increased tree planting to meet climate change targets and to satisfy the demands of the timber industry, but this should not take place at the expense of agriculture and its prime purpose of producing food.  The government has stated its woodland creation ambitions but it also has committed to making more land available for new tenancies. These two ambitions could surely go hand in hand, with agriculture retained on the better land and tree planting on the remainder.  There may even be scope for agro-forestry schemes.”

 

 

For further information:

Contact:  Angus McCall 01408 633275 / 07767 756840

 

 

Notes for editors:

Farms referred to are:

(a)    Culdrain Farm – 64.2ha of arable and 7.2ha rough grazing near Huntly

(b)   Upper Tullochbeg and Ittingstone, near Huntly  – 80.6ha arable, 33.8ha permanent pasture and 100.1ha rough grazing.  Buildings plus 44.7ha have been already leased out as a starter farm.

(c)      Curlusk and Broadfield – 180ha of grazing land near Keith

LONG RUNNING RENT CASES MUST BE CONCLUDED

LONG RUNNING RENT CASES MUST BE CONCLUDED

Scottish Tenant Farmers Association

News Release

26th November

LONG RUNNING RENT CASES MUST BE CONCLUDED

 The Scottish Tenant Farmers Association is concerned at the lack of progress in settling some long running rental disputes in the Land Court despite the consensus amongst industry bodies that rents should be kept at sensible levels pending legislative change.  Although the recent rent initiative does not apply to cases sisted (put on hold) to the Land Court, it was hoped that the spirit of agreement would influence rent disputes already in the Court process.

Commenting on the situation STFA spokesman Angus McCall said: “With the November term date imminent it would seem that the recent industry rent initiative has encouraged most rent reviews to be settled at sensible levels. However we are aware of a handful which have been left to the last minute and may be referred to the Land Court to keep negotiations open.  We hope this practice will be outlawed in the forthcoming review to stop the Land Court being used as a way of increasing the pressure on tenants.  Rents should only be referred to the Land Court, or preferably some form of arbitration or expert determination, if there is a genuine dispute over the level of rent being demanded.

“One of our main areas of concern relates to the number of unresolved rent review cases still lying unresolved in the Land Court, there are more than a dozen, some since 2008.   This places an intolerable strain on the families affected who have spent years facing the uncertainty of an ongoing rental dispute with the bleak prospect of a Land Court hearing sometime in the future.  It is unbelievable that rent disputes are allowed to continue for such a long period of time and it is doubly disappointing that the current consensus over sensible rent settlements has not done anything to bring them to a conclusion.

“We expect the AHLRG to make some robust recommendations on the conduct of rent disputes and the way they are handled by the Land Court.  Since 2004 over 200 rent review cases have been referred to the Land Court but only 4 rent review cases have actually come to Court.  This is not because of amicable settlements but because the alternative is to face bankruptcy through the Court process.  The move from arbitration to the Land Court has failed the rent review process and until change can be brought about landlords, their agents and tenants must abide by the voluntary rental initiative and that includes those stuck in the Land Court.”

CAP PAYMENTS MUST BE TARGETED AT ACTIVE FARMERS

CAP PAYMENTS MUST BE TARGETED AT ACTIVE FARMERS

CAP PAYMENTS MUST BE TARGETED AT ACTIVE FARMERS

The Scottish Tenant Farmers Association has called on the Scottish Government to tighten criteria for activity rules in the new CAP regime to ensure that only genuinely active farmers receive entitlement to basic payments.  Implementation rules are still to be finalised and STFA considers that there needs to be much more rigorous definition of active farmers and what constitutes agricultural activity.  STFA is also concerned that the Government may not be implementing 2013 as the reference year for claiming entitlements – a measure designed to limit the damage being done to the tenanted sector by landlords bringing tenancies to an end to take advantage of the new CAP rules.

 Commenting on the latest CAP developments STFA chairman Christopher Nicholson said: “In announcing the CAP agreement in June the Cabinet secretary promised to “make every effort to target every public pound at genuine activity – to target those who wear dirty wellies not comfy slippers”. As the rules stand this is not going to happen.  There is nothing to prevent a landowner from renting his land out on a seasonal arrangement while being classified as an active farmer picking up receiving support payments and also being able to receive tax benefits available to working farmers.

 “We would like to see the activity rules strengthened to include proof that the active farmer’s main income is from agriculture, that he is in occupation of the land, that he is taking the entrepreneurial risk of the farming activities on the holding, and that he is in control of the day to day management of the holding.  We can see no justification for anyone to be in receipt of SFP unless they are actually engaged in farming activity on that land.  This concern relates equally to contract farming arrangements where the “farmer” frequently shares very little risk with the contractor.

 “There would appear to be very little joined up thinking between CAP reform and tenancy reform.  At a time when the government is seeking to revitalise and expand the tenanted sector and create more opportunities for new entrants the CAP regime is in danger of achieving the opposite by discouraging land to be let and of encouraging a new breed of armchair farmers who will be able to sit back and receive support payments for very little effort.

 “With a restricted CAP budget and the move to an area payment it is important, even at this late stage, for the government to use the flexibility it has to deliver support payments where they are needed rather than allowing the payments to be used as a return on investment in land.”

 

Government survey shows value of farm ownership and security of tenure

Government survey shows value of farm ownership and security of tenure

News Release

Scottish Tenant Farmers Association

12th November 2014

 Government survey shows value of farm ownership and security of tenure

The Scottish Government has now completed its research into the tenanted sector with the publication of a survey of owner occupiers’ views on tenant farming.  This follows an extensive series of studies carried out over the last few months.

The latest study elicited 337 responses representing a 12% response rate compared to landlords 35% and tenants 53%.  The area of land owned by the sample of respondents has hardly changed since 2000 and is made up of medium sized farms of about 350acs.  More than half of respondents were over the age of 60.  This survey clearly only represents the views of a small number of owner occupier farmers and may not be representative of the whole.

Commenting on the results of the survey STFA chairmen Christopher Nicholson said; “The majority of farmland in Scotland is owner occupied and it is surprising that there was such a low response rate to this survey, but although this survey is limited in statistical significance it has produced some interesting results.

“Contrary to the expectations of many landlords there would seem to be considerable support for granting tenants the absolute right to buy, probably because owner-occupiers appreciate the value of owning their own farms.  More than half of those taking part in the survey (56%) thought that all or certain categories of 1991 tenants should be granted an absolute right to buy their farms.

“87% of the sample of owner occupiers had taken ownership of their farm since 1945, and it is likely that majority of these family businesses were originally tenants who have had the opportunity to buy their holdings.  It comes as no surprise to us that these former tenants recognize the value of ownership in terms of enabling their businesses to borrow, invest and grow. Indeed there are examples of owned and tenanted land up and down the country which show the contrast and different levels of investment between tenanted and owned farms.

As well as agreeing with ARTB for tenants the majority of owner occupiers sampled also recognized the importance tenants’ being able to pass on a viable business to a family member.  Succession provisions are a significant hurdle for tenants and it is only commonsense that the AHLRG are working on proposals to allow wider family succession for tenants, but they must not lose sight of the importance of opening assignation opportunities to allow a wider group of aspiring tenants access to secure tenure.

“History has shown that the purchase of holdings by tenants has allowed much higher levels of investment compared with those that have remained in the tenanted sector.  Putting tenants on a level playing field with owner-occupiers with regard to ability to invest is a key challenge for the AHLRG.  Maintaining and preserving the secure tenure model must be a priority of the review to provide future generations of tenant farmers with the confidence to invest in and grow their businesses .”

 

 

 

STFA STRESS IMPORTANCE OF SECURITY FOR TENANT FARMERS

STFA STRESS IMPORTANCE OF SECURITY FOR TENANT FARMERS

The Scottish Tenant Farmers Association has urged the Agricultural Holdings Legislation Review Group (AHLRG) not to lose sight of the importance of maintaining security of tenure and encouraging investment in tenanted farms.

The AHLRG has just concluded a final round of public meetings where they tested their thinking in in front of mixed audiences of landlords and tenants.  Tenant reaction to these meetings has been mixed with many expressing disappointment that some of the more progressive ideas have become watered down.

STFA Chairman Christopher Nicholson who attended several of the meetings said: “There has been some good stuff coming out of the Group’s thinking.  They are on the right track in the proposed changes to rent reviews.  Improved compensation for tenant’s improvements is welcome as are greater rights of succession and assignation for family members.  Our calls for an ombudsman have been heeded and it looks as though the Group now recognise that the ombudsman must have statutory powers and codes of practice must be mandatory.

“However, there seems to be doubt emerging over the future of plans for open assignation of 1991 tenancies which the Group had hailed as a potential solution to many of the problems found in the tenanted sector.  STFA welcomed this initiative as a way of encouraging much needed investment in tenanted holdings whilst providing older tenants a route to retirement to allow new blood access to secure tenancies.

“The much diluted proposal to limit assignation to lifetime Limited Duration Tenancies is seen as a short term-fix signalling the demise of the secure sector which has been the backbone of Scottish agriculture for the last sixty years. Food production is just as important now in Scotland as it was when security was introduced and there are people who want to be part of that economy and security is an essential ingredient for investment.

“It must be in the public interest that tenanted land under secure tenure is preserved as a resource for future generations.  Turning the clock back to the days before security of tenure when tenants were at the beck and call of their landlords is a bleak prospect and one which will only add fuel to the demand for ARTB.  More importantly, the review will miss the opportunity to breathe life into a stagnant tenanted sector and rural communities by failing to put the farming ladder back in place and encouraging innovative projects for new entrants such as share farming.

“We know of many landlords who are supportive of open assignation of secure tenancies, recognising the measure as a long term solution to key problems which have vexed the tenanted sector for decades.  Such pragmatism has been welcomed by tenants and curbed calls for an ARTB during the course of the review.  However, there is a very powerful minority of landlords in the background who vehemently oppose such reforms. We believe this opposition to be short sighted and risks further deep discord in the sector.”

Ag Holdings Review Group Meetings

AGRICULTURAL HOLDINGS LEGISLATION REVIEW GROUP –

 

STAKEHOLDER ENGAGEMENT

As part of the next stage of their stakeholder engagement programme, members of the Agricultural Holdings Legislation Review Group will be holding open meetings at the following locations across Scotland:

Thursday 09 October 2014 – The Cross Keys Hotel, 36-37 The Square, Kelso, TD5 7HL from 19.00pm to 21.00pm

Monday 27 October 2014 – Porterhouse Restaurant, Thainstone Centre, Inverurie, AB51 5XZ from 19.00pm to 21.00pm

Tuesday 28 October 2014 – The Royal Hotel, 55 Henderson Street, Bridge of Allan, FK9 4HG from 19.00pm to 21.00pm

Wednesday 29 October 2014 – Empire Suite, The Cairndale Hotel, English Street, Dumfries, DG1 2DF from 19.00pm to 21.00pm

Members of the Review Group will discuss their emerging thoughts on their proposals and are keen to hear from tenant farmers, their landlords, landowners and other interested individuals on their views on the proposed approached.

STFA OPEN DAY PROVIDES TEST BED FOR TENANCY REFORMS

STFA OPEN DAY PROVIDES TEST BED FOR TENANCY REFORMS

STFA OPEN DAY PROVIDES TEST BED FOR TENANCY REFORMS

Tenancy reform will be the focus of an open day to be held next week (Thursday 23rd Oct) on an Aberdeenshire farm where tenant farmers will have the chance to put the Agricultural Holdings Legislation Group’s (AHLRG) latest thinking to the test.  The review group have been conducting exhaustive research into the operation of tenanted sector and are now sharing their ideas with the industry in a series of meetings before finalising their report, due in December.  Well known tenancy expert, Hamish Lean, and other members of the Group will also be attending.

The open day is to be held on Craskins Farm near Aboyne, a 700 mixed unit tenanted by the Ross family.  The land is rented from the MacRobert Trust and is made up of 1991 tenancies, a Limited Duration Tenancy and seasonal grazings.  Farming enterprises include beef cows, sheep and malting barley with all progeny finished at home.

The mix of land holdings and the range of fixed equipment provided by landlord and tenant will provide an ideal practical test bed for the Review Group’s proposals.   Rent reviews, are due for a shake up as the AHLRG seek to base rent setting on the productive capacity of the farm rather than on the open market – an approach tenant farmers have been advocating for well over a decade.  The open day will provide an opportunity to examine how a new production based rent system might work on the ground using practical examples.

Other topics up for discussion will be tenants’ improvements, succession and assignation of tenancies and the creation of opportunities for new entrants to the industry.  The meeting is open to members of STFA and non-members are welcome to join on the day and should register beforehand.

 

Notes for Editors:

The open day is to be held at at Craskins Farm Tarland,  Aboyne Aberdeenshire AB34 4TJ

(By kind permission of the Ross Family)

Thursday 23rd October 2014

Registration at 11.00am

To book contact STFA : stfa@tfascotland.org.uk

Tel: 0140863 3275 or 07767756840

 

Members of the Ag. Holdings Review Group will be in attendance

GREENING THE CAP

FAQ’s on Greening the CAP

 

The Scottish Government has published a Greening FAQ on the CAP Website – see link below.  This is a “living document” and will be updated as clarification is received on certain issues from the Commission and as further decisions are taken.

This guidance is welcome with the current uncertainty over the implementation of the CAP and should help producers decide their  plans for next year.

To access the FAQs please click here