The Scottish government is planning a top-to-bottom review of farm tenancy legislation, Scotland’s rural affairs minister Richard Lochhead has announced.
Mr Lochhead told an NFU Scotland seminar in Edinburgh that the review, promised in the Scottish National Party’s election manifesto, would go ahead next year.
“Land tenure is one of the biggest issues facing rural Scotland and there are no easy answers,” said Mr Lochhead. “I am looking for far-sighted recommendations from the industry to encourage landowners to offer more farms to let and create opportunities for new entrants to make a start in farming.
“The stakes are high and the alternative is the continued consolidation of farms into massive units and the loss of diversity and vibrancy offered by a healthy and prosperous tenanted sector.”
Mr Lochhead said owner-occupiers who wanted to retire from active farming should be encouraged to offer land for let to give new entrants with no farming background an opportunity to farm, as well as those in a position to inherit. More formalised contract farming arrangements were one of the models that should be considered, he said.
The area of tenanted land in Scotland and the number of tenanted farms fell by 11% from 2005 to 2011 – 16% in the case of traditional secure tenancies – and one-third of tenants say they have no family interested in taking over their tenancies.
Landowners are reluctant to let farms because they fear tenants will be granted an absolute right to buy, which is favoured by some in the SNP, although has been firmly rejected by Mr Lochhead on a number of occasions.
The Tenant Farming Forum has been charged with the task of recommending reform of the Agricultural Holdings Act, but there is increasing scepticism that they will be able to reconcile the differences between landowners and tenants to come up with policies acceptable to all parties.
“The solution doesn’t rest with the extreme views on either side of the spectrum,” said TFF chairman Prof Phil Thomas. “We have to guard against believing that the extreme views often expressed on both sides are representative of the whole industry. A middle road will have to be found.”