Opinion: I want land rents to stay high

Tenancy agreement with keys and a pen

© Jeff Blackler/Rex Shutterstock

Farmers Weekly is running a contest to find a new columnist. If you are interested in applying then I heartily recommend the job to you.

I can especially recommend it if you like being jabbed in your shoulder blade by other farmers telling you what to write about. 

“Here, put that land rents are too high, boy. Put that in yer magazine.” 

This is what they will say to you. It happens to me all the time; I have been prodded in the scapula by aggrieved farmers so many times that my chiropractor once asked if I regularly operated a machine gun.

What do you think about this topic? Have your say on our website forums

Matthew Naylor
Matthew Naylor farms 162ha of Lincolnshire silt in partnership with his father, Nev. Cropping includes potatoes, vegetables, cut flowers and flowering bulbs. Matthew is a Nuffield scholar

I always do the opposite of what I’m told to anyway, you should know that by now. This is why I’m not going to argue for low rents.

In fact, I like high land rents. It shows that the industry has a bit of swagger to it. It actually annoys me when young people complain that they can’t get into agriculture because of “ridiculously high land rents”. Where is the fighting spirit in that?

There is a finite amount of land and a queue of people who would like it so the rental market is obviously competitive.

Personally I don’t think anyone should be allowed to enter agriculture until they have been dragged to a tattoo parlour to get the rules of supply and demand permanently inscribed backwards on their forehead in an elaborate calligraphic font.

That way they could read it in the mirror when they shave every week.

I know it’s frustrating when other farmers are willing to pay money than you are for land, but maybe they are more efficient, more profitable or simply richer than you are.

Perhaps they are wilful, pig-headed and have a sticky zero button on their calculator. Either way, that’s just how it is.

Complaining about it only makes you look like a child having a tantrum by the pick-and-mix stand. 

Unfortunately there is an equal and opposite problem with farmgate prices.

We are producing most commodities in greater volumes than our market is requesting and so, in accordance with the same laws, we are experiencing low prices as a consequence.

Milk at 22p/litre is clearly undervalued. Potatoes at £100/t are undervalued. Wheat at £120/t is… actually, now I think about it, £120/t is plenty for wheat.

Arable farmers only work for half the year and if you pay them too much they will only spend it on a bigger combine and a skiing holiday.

Clearly we need to match our production to our market, not our capacity.

It is wrong to suggest that lower rents are the solution to our difficulties.

Agriculture already has cash subsidies, cheaper fuels and special tax breaks compared with other industries.

It is ridiculous to keep fighting market forces in this way. If we keep defending these concessions, we will remain in an economic sub-class and our true contribution to the country’s gross domestic product will continue to go unrecognised.

This is why the recent announcement of a living wage for British workers is actually good news.

We have demeaned and disincentivised workers in the UK by paying a low minimum wage while the government has offered income support payments and absurdly cheap food.

Perhaps we can now return to a time where food, like farmland, is attributed its true value.

Incidentally, my other advice to potential columnists is to always try to stimulate letters from your readers.

See more