The Scottish Government has today confirmed that the long term trend in falling livestock numbers is again matched by the continuing shrinkage in the tenanted sector.  Over the last year cattle and sheep numbers have dropped by 2.3% and 2.5%, the size of the pig herd has seen a 12.1% reduction and the area of rented land has contracted by a staggering 21,000ha representing a loss of 370 (5%) tenanted holdings.

Commenting on the situation STFA Chairman Christopher Nicholson said:  “It is ironic that whilst Scotland’s flagship food and drink export sector flourishes and demand for Scottish beef is at an all time high, agricultural production is dropping.  The fall in livestock numbers over the past year is not unexpected, following the appalling weather conditions faced by many of our farmers, but the underlying trend is worrying particularly in fragile areas where the marketing and processing infrastructure will be reaching a tipping point as throughput declines.  These figures demonstrate the need for continuing targeted direct support reinforced by coupled payments to help arrest the decline in livestock numbers so that we can satisfy the demand for our produce both home and abroad.

 “Government figures echo the reality of a tenanted sector in decline as landlords withdraw land.  STFA has been aware of an increasing number of tenancies being lost, but even the most pessimistic estimates come nowhere near the 21,000 ha in the census.  Unless positive action to taken to ensure tenanted land remains within the sector there will be fewer and fewer opportunities for new entrants and the remaining rungs will vanish from the farming ladder.

 “Despite claims to the contrary, there is spare agricultural capacity and opportunities in our hills and glens.   You don’t have to travel far to see increasing examples of under-utilisation of farmland and chronic lack of investment on farms rented out on short-term arrangements.  This is stifling initiative and preventing Scottish agriculture from realising its potential.  The ministerial review of agricultural holdings is a welcome chance to sort out the problems of the present, such as the ailing rent review system, and to look towards developing a fairer land tenure structure that will provide opportunities for secure tenure for the next generation of farmers to develop and grow their family businesses.”