8 March 2002

Court of appeal closes farming diversification

By Andrew Shirley

TENANT farmers hoping to diversify have been struck a blow by a recent appeal court ruling.

The case revolved around Robert and Elaine Jewell, who opened a visitor attraction on their 44ha (110 acre) dairy farm, near Arlingham, Glos, in 1998. Thousands of families and school children were taken around the holding which continued to operate as a traditional farm.

Mr and Mrs Jewell are members of a family trust that owns St Augustines Farm and they act as tenants to their relatives. But the other members of their family wanted to sell the farm for development and, in a bid to seize control of the farm, took Mr and Mrs Jewell to court for being in breach of their tenancy agreement which permitted only agricultural activities to be carried out on the holding.

At its first hearing, the action was defeated on the basis that the character of the tenancy remained agricultural. But that decision has now been overturned by the court of appeal which took the view that the narrow definition of agriculture – crop and animal husbandry – should be upheld.

The Jewells must now close the enterprise which had been providing a useful income. "We are very disappointed," said Mr Jewell. "The government is encouraging farmers to diversify, but the law means many of them are having difficulties."

Although the case was fuelled by a family disagreement, TFA chief executive George Dunn said it had massive implications for other tenants who make up 35% of the UKs farming population.

"If you take away the fact they were related this is a circumstance that arises time and time again."

A change in the law is now vital, said Mr Dunn. "It is impossible for tenants to diversify unless they have a benevolent landlord." &#42