21 December 2000
Church under fire on farm rents

By FWi staff

SAVAGE losses await tenant farmers unless big landlords such as the Church of England adjust rents immediately, the National Farmers Union has claimed.

Somerset NFU chairman, Marshall Taylor, said most tenant farmers were in “an impossible position” with few reserves and no land to act as collateral.

There was real evidence that institutional landlords such as the Church were ignoring the plight of their tenants, Mr Taylor said.

“They are only helping the very worst cases. I believe the Church should take a lead and adjust rent in keeping with the farms earning capacity.”

A spokesman for the Church of England said: “We refute any suggestions that we are ignoring the plight of farmers.

It was impossible to impose a blanket reduction in rents because every farm is different but individual farmers should discuss any difficulties immediately.

Some within the Church believes that the government should do more to foster the confidence of farmers hit by the worst crisis in living memory.

The Bishop of Guildford, John Gladwin, said ministers should develop a clearer strategy for change in the countryside and rural communities.

In his parting speech as president of the Surrey Agricultural Society, the Bishop said the countryside should not just be home to wealthy businessmen.

“It is a place of work, it is a community where ordinary folk need services to make their lives possible – transport, education and employment.

The land needs managing and the land needs to serve the interests of all.”

Meanwhile in Gloucestershire the county councils 100 tenant farmers are also demanding cuts in rents in order to stay in business.

Dairy farmer David Stafford, of Standish, near Stroud, Gloucestershire, took the county council to an independent arbitrator in a bid to reduce his rent.

He won a 16% cut but the council has appealed against the decision.

Gloucestershire NFU chairman, Peter Davidson-Smith, said the council could be contesting the decision because it was planning to sell its smallholdings.

But a spokeswoman for the council denied that its rents were higher than those elsewhere in the country.

“Many local authority rents have stayed still whereas in the 20 months prior to May 2000 we actually reduced 43 rentals,” she said.