12 July 2002

Rental rules stifling Scots plans

A LACK of arable land to rent is stifling Scottish attempts to restructure and boost efficiency, says Strutt and Parker.

Proposed reforms to the Agricultural Holdings Act are only exacerbating the issue.

"The problem we have is that there isnt the legislation in place for short-term letting of land from farmer to farmer," says Banchory-based land agent Tom Stewart.

Larger farms are looking to take on land without increasing labour or machinery costs while many smaller, older farmers are keen to let land.

But legislation gives growers security of tenure as soon as they start growing a second crop in succession. The result is those who would let land short-term are wary of doing so.

SEERADs planned reforms to the 1991 Agricultural Holdings Act will do little to solve that issue. Five-year or 15-year tenancy terms are proposed, with no interim measure or shorter-term opportunities.

What is worse is that if a five-year deal rolls over into a sixth year it automatically becomes a 15-year term.

For farmers looking to let land and retire that is too long, he says, as it could mean land cannot be sold should they die.

"The result of all this uncertainty is a reluctance to let and the land market has completely dried up. We need freedom of contract. The only way to become more efficient for many is to take on more land on a short-term basis," says Mr Stewart.

More sharing of machinery, or use of contractors or machinery rings would also slash fixed costs, boosting or returning farms to profit. Growers need to swallow their pride and give up trying to do all operations themselves. &#42