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.