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Government Must Not Dodge Responsibility for Reshaping Future Agricultural Land Use and Management

George outside office

TFA Chief Executive, George Dunn

The Tenant Farmers Association (TFA) is urging the Government not to dodge taking the necessary action required to ensure the future of agricultural land use and its management.

TFA Chief Executive, George Dunn has used his speech at today’s Westminster Food & Nutrition Forum Policy Conference to question how we provide a framework which adequately rewards farmers for delivering to consumers high quality food produced to high standards of environmental management, animal welfare and regard for the climate, at prices consumers can afford.

“To date, the blunt tool that we have been using to assist in achieving that has been The Basic Payment Scheme (BPS). And let’s be clear, the BPS has been the difference between profit and loss for a lot of farm businesses who are doing the right thing by the environment, by animal welfare, by carbon management, by clean air, clean water and a raft of other measurable environmental outcomes,” said Mr Dunn.

To that end, whilst the TFA agrees with a move to a system which more precisely targets the production of public benefits with the application of public money, it points out that we are a long way off from having a sensible framework in place to deliver that.

“In the first place, the Government cannot ignore wider market failures such as unfair supply chains which deliver too little of the retail value to the farmer. Therefore, any suggestion that the Groceries Code Adjudicator (GCA) is no longer required seems to me to be completely misguided. In fact, its role needs to be expanded into some of the areas for which the Government has reserved powers through the Agriculture Act 2020 ,” said Mr Dunn.

“There are also issues around market failures in respect of access to land, particularly for farm business tenancies which remain too short and too restrictive for both private and public objectives,” said Mr Dunn.

“In addition, what about the way in which we trade with other parts of the world? How do we ensure that we do not undermine our domestic standards, damaging sustainable land use and management? This has been raised as a concern by many both within and external to the agricultural industry and most recently by the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health. It has said, in connection with the recent Australian trade, deal that the UK Government is entering into Free Trade Agreements which will result in lowering food standards in the UK, potentially placing consumers at risk,” said Mr Dunn.

While the TFA believes that focusing on Environmental Land Management (ELM) schemes alone will be insufficient for the land-use challenges we face, there are some changes to ELM that will help.

“Within the context of ELM, more than six years after the Brexit vote we are a long way off having a comprehensive domestic agricultural policy to replace the Common Agricultural Policy. Therefore, the TFA is calling for the following in England:

• The speeding up of the rollout of all Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) standards at levels of reward commensurate to the public benefits being provided rather than sticking to the old income foregone approach.
• Using existing Countryside Stewardship and Higher Level Stewardship as the basis upon which the objectives articulated for Local Nature Recovery (LNR) are delivered rather than attempting to create a new scheme just for the sake of doing so.
• Finally, pulling public funding for Landscape Recovery (LR) and focusing it more on SFI and allowing private funding to support landscape recovery schemes but, avoiding vanity projects,” said Mr Dunn.

For the tenanted sector of agriculture there are two principal issues that need to be addressed in terms of access to new schemes.

“The first is disenfranchisement. Many tenant farmers have tenancy agreements which are too short in comparison to the commitments being asked of farmers through new schemes and where tenancy clauses are too restrictive. The Rules of Good Husbandry, written in 1947 and the definition of agriculture as it applies to agricultural tenancies, are not beneficial to the desire for the delivery of environmental outcomes. Tree planting, for example, is out of scope for most tenant farmers. That is particularly worrisome in respect of the universal requirement being proposed in Wales for all applicants to its new Sustainable Farming Scheme to have at least 10% woodland cover on their holdings,” said Mr Dunn.

“The second is dislocation. We are already experiencing tenant farmers losing access to land because their landlords wish to place themselves in pole position for whatever public or private schemes come long particularly around tree planting, rewilding and landscape recovery. Much of this is, of course, agent driven. The Government has signalled the need to retain land in the tenanted sector as a public good and ways to avoid this land leakage must be found,” said Mr Dunn.

“Answers to both of these issues will be articulated in the report from the Tenancy Working Group, chaired by Baroness Kate Rock, whose publication is expected any day. The Government must not dodge taking the necessary action that will be recommended in this report,” said Mr Dunn.


Ref: MR22/14
Date: 11 October 2022

Notes for Editors:
For media enquiries, contact Julia Meadows, TFA Communications and Events Coordinator, on 0118 930 6130 or 07887 777157.

To view a copy of this media release via the TFA website, click here.

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