Mixed picture from latest farm rents survey

Farm Business Tenancy (FBT) rents rose by an average of 4% to £227/ha (£92/acre), according to latest government figures for the year to February 2018.

Defra’s Farm Rents in England 2017-18 publication shows that average FBT rents in the East Midlands and East of England saw increases of 14% and 17%, respectively, between 2016 and 2017.

However, in Yorkshire & Humber average FBT rents fell by 22%, while in the North Eastern region they dropped by 11%.

See also: Full extent of decline in county farms estate revealed 

The publication compares rents under FBTs, full agricultural tenancies (FATs) and informal and seasonal agreements, based on data from the Farm Business Survey (FBS).

This data for 2017-18 covers the 2017 harvest with a year end of February 2018.

AHA rents

Between 2016 and 2017, the average rent for FATs granted under the Agricultural Holdings Act (1986) fell by 6% to £170/ha (£69/ha).

However, Defra says this is unlikely to be statistically significant because of the fall in the number of AHA agreements in the sample and the increasing variability within the data.

The average rent for seasonal agreements was £152/ha (£62/acre), 2% higher than in 2016.

Marginal changes

George Dunn, chief executive of the Tenant Farmers Association, said the results of the survey supported what he was seeing on the ground, which was that overall rents were pretty constant, as people waited to see what happened with Brexit.

“We are seeing there is no real trend in AHA rent reviews,” he said.

“They are either flat or changing due to very bespoke reasons.

“It may be that they haven’t been reviewed for a very long time and therefore they are at a low level, or they were reviewed at some point relatively recently and there had been an increase and those rents are now coming down.”

FBT differences

But Mr Dunn said it was interesting that the average rental figure for an FBT, at £227/ha (£92/acre),  was far short of the “spicy” rents used as examples of open-market rent levels.

“Even the cereal farm rents are just over the £100/ac mark and what that says to me is that there are a lot of FBT rents in the marketplace [struck privately] which are far below the headline rents that often get quoted.”

Mr Dunn also pointed out that the area of land under an FBT continued to rise, while that let under the AHA was in decline.

In 2017, there were 1.396m ha in England let on AHA tenancies and 1.208m ha on an FBT.

Given that it would not be long before more than half of land was covered by an FBT, it was important that these tenancies were let in a sustainable way with tenants offered longer tenancies to give them greater security, he said.

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