It seems odd that a black cloud still hangs over Manor Farm this Christmas.
After all, it has been one of our better years. We had some crop yields to shout about, which got sold at some fairly special prices. Autumn drilling went spectacularly – how often does November stay fine and dry to allow you to catch up with the funeral-delayed ploughing-in of winter beans?
The RPA have just been on the phone to say that, for the first time in years, we should have our SFP by Christmas. So what’s the problem?
Well, it’s because I’m a tenant farmer. And no, that doesn’t mean I’ve fallen out with the National Trust again. Far from it – there has been a wonderful outbreak of co-operation and common sense in our relationship. One of the two sides has finally grown up a bit recently, and I don’t think it’s them.
No, the problem is that the NFU has had another of its occasional outbreaks of enthusiasm for the tenanted sector. And this time their enthusiasm reached new heights, with a conference at Harper Adams back in November.
I’m very keen to point out that I’m not falling out with the NFU either; next April, when a four-figure sum vanishes from my bank account to pay for my membership, I’ll gulp and swear, but eventually agree that it’s money well spent. But I really think they should leave farm tenancy-related matters alone, for two reasons.
First, in deepest, darkest Theale (‘dark’ to me, because I was beaten up there in 1977), there is already a first-class (and cheap) organisation that specialises in tenant farming matters – the TFA. You know it’s good when it obviously gets under the CLA’s skin. The CLA recently condemned the TFA for “using rent reviews as an excuse to promote themselves”. Hmmm. A bit like the AA or RAC using car breakdowns as an excuse to promote themselves. What outrageously shocking opportunism.
And there are times when the landlord/tenant relationship unavoidably becomes an ‘us versus them’ situation – during those rent reviews, for instance. I want my back-up for those few weeks to be belligerent and blunt, like the TFA’s legendary ‘Ulster Terrier’, and not a bit too chummy-chummy with the CLA.
The second problem is what tends to happen to the objects of the NFU’s dedicated attention. They don’t always come out of it too well. For instance, they’ve been banging the drum for the theory of Catastrophic Anthropogenic Climate Change for some years, and are still at it, even as more and more wheels fall off that Socialist/Green bandwagon.
And then there’s the Euro. Was there ever a bigger advocate of joining the Euro than the NFU? Ignore the political arguments, the sovereignty implications, and the shameless hypocrisy of farmers like me who oppose the EU vehemently but still cash the cheques: my point is that the Euro is crashing and burning. Even Jacques Delors – one of its main architects – is admitting that the project was ill-conceived and doomed from the start.
So I’m worried about the future of the tenanted sector. Please NFU, shift your policy spotlight off us tenants. Leave the tenancy experts to look after us. Keep up the fantastic work on other matters – like, for instance, what on earth’s going to happen to our precious SFP after the Euro collapses. Now there’s a subject worthy of your wise consideration. And, of course, have a Happy Christmas.
Charlie Flindt is a tenant of the National Trust, farming 380ha at Hinton Ampner, in Hampshire.
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