New working group to support tenant farmers as agriculture goes through its biggest change in 50 years welcomed as "much needed"

An independent review looking at how tenant farmers and tenancies can be better supported has been launched by the Government.

The Tenancy Working Group will be looking at issues affecting tenant farmers.
The Tenancy Working Group will be looking at issues affecting tenant farmers.

Environment Secretary George Eustice announced the formation of The Tenancy Working Group yesterday, saying it would investigate how to support tenant farmers as the new agricultural policies come into place following the UK’s departure from the EU.

Mr Eustice said the group will be chaired by Baroness Kate Rock and will “provide tenant farmers and associated stakeholders a further opportunity to make sure the new environmental land management schemes work within agricultural tenancies”.

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The Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said in order for its reforms to agriculture to be successful, tenant farmers must be able to “fully engage” in these schemes and contribute to a more sustainable agricultural sector.

“We are designing our new schemes in partnership with farmers, and this group will focus specifically on the tenanted sector,” Mr Eustice said.

“We want to identify and explore ways to really make sure that our new schemes work for tenant farmers, and the breadth of knowledge and expertise within this group will allow us to do so.”

Objectives for the group will be to provide independent advice to include:

How Defra can use scheme design to facilitate participation of and benefits to tenant farmers in new Government ELMs and related schemes.

Consideration of what policy initiatives will secure the long-term sustainability of tenant farming in England.

How best to foster positive and long-term relationships between tenants and landlords.

Providing advice on ways to minimise any potential loss of land from the tenanted sector to avoid damaging its resilience

Considering why it might be necessary to look for new legislative or regulatory powers in the future.

The working group will then publish a report due later this year setting out the main conclusions from its findings and providing a set of recommendations to Defra. George Dunn, chief executive of the Tenant Farmers Association (TFA), said it welcomed the new initiative.

“It is incredibly important that tenant farmers can access the new schemes being developed to replace the Basic Payment Scheme and at the same time protect against the loss of land from the tenanted sector of agriculture.

And Mr Dunn urged the Government to put the working group in place as a matter of urgency.

“It is hugely important that the new working group is established quickly so that its recommendations can be built into the design of the Environmental Land Management scheme.

“However, it is also important that the working group looks longer term at issues which may need regulatory, legislative or wider policy change.

“The TFA has every confidence that Baroness Rock will steer this work with diligence and creativity.”

Getting ready to take up her role, Baroness Rock said how “crucial” tenant farmers are to the industry.

“Access to the new schemes will be of utmost importance to secure the long-term sustainability of tenant farming in England and I am delighted to be chairing this timely working group and look forward to engaging fully with all stakeholders involved in the tenanted sector.”

NFU tenants forum chairman Chris Cardell said the announcement is "absolutely welcome".

"It is critical tenant farmers can create a secure and sustainable future for their own businesses and that there are suitable options for them within the government’s ELM and related schemes.

“The five main objectives of the working group that have been identified are far reaching and encompass many of the concerns our members have been expressing.

“With over 60% of England’s farmed area being farmed by tenants, they play a pivotal role in producing food for the nation and looking after our environment. That is why schemes must be accessible to them and land must not disappear from the sector.

" This announcement is much needed and will hopefully now offer some stability to landlords and their tenants and settle the volatile marketplace until the outcome of the review.

“We still have significant concerns that the accessibility of the proposed ELM schemes, in combination with the rapid reduction in direct payments, will have damaging impacts for tenant farming businesses.

"It is unacceptable to expect tenant farmers to make significant, long-term decisions now about the future of their businesses while multiple barriers remain unaddressed within new government schemes that are portrayed as a replacement for direct payments.

“We very much look forward to assisting Lady Rock and working together with other stakeholders in this important work.”