Defra review urges improved support for tenant farmers

Recommendations include changes to taxation, legislation and the design of new government financial assistance schemes
Recommendations include changes to taxation, legislation and the design of new government financial assistance schemes

The government has conducted a root and branch review of the tenanted sector of agriculture, providing a new set of recommendations for both landlords and tenants.

The Rock Review, commissioned by Defra in January, looked at how to provide better support to tenant farmers and tenancies as post-Brexit farming policy gets underway.

The report at its heart champions the need for landlords and tenants to take a collaborative approach, both for their mutual benefit and for the wider public benefit.

The evidence uncovered by the review demonstrates that good collaboration is the exception rather than the rule.

Other recommendations include changes to taxation, legislation, the design of new government financial assistance schemes and the regulation of agents.

A main focus of the report is on the way Farm Business Tenancies (FBTs) are undertaken and the limited extent to which freedom of contract is used.

With tenant farmers being stewards on holdings that cover more than half of farmable land in England, the report says this group of farmers need to have access to government schemes.

Defra Secretary Ranil Jayawardena said the government would be looking closely at the report's recommendations.

"The review is right to set out the importance of having a thriving tenanted sector if we are to deliver growth in our rural economy and unlock farmers’ potential to improve the environment.

"As we look at how we best deliver our environmental schemes, we will make sure that the needs of tenant farmers remain central to our plans."

Some recommendations can be more immediately delivered by Defra, such as changes to scheme design that would expand the opportunities for tenant farmers to access support for improving the environment alongside producing food.

Others are more structural, encouraging tenant farmers and landlords to collaborate and invest in productivity, improve the environment and drive growth in the rural economy.

Baroness Kate Rock said the review provided 'a clear vision' for the agricultural tenanted sector in England that "Defra can and should adopt".

"The recommendations, when taken together, actively move the sector towards a position where tenant farmers operate resilient, successful, and thriving businesses."

The report also identifies a failing at the heart of Defra in respect of its understanding of the complex nature of land occupation within the farmed landscape of England.

The Tenant Farmers Association (TFA) said it 'welcomed and endorsed' the report, but warned that its recommendations could be 'quickly forgotten'.

"However, the TFA will be doing all it can to ensure that the valuable work carried out by the Tenancy Working Group will be taken seriously by this Government and any which follows it," said TFA national chairman, Mark Coulman.

"The recommendations of the Rock Review hang together well and provide an extensive, thorough and clear blueprint for action with a host of easy wins that must not be missed."

The government said it would publish a formal response to the review in due course.