The Tenant Farmers Association in Wales (TFA Cymru) has said that the Welsh government has failed to provide adequate safeguards for farm tenants against being shut out from the proposed Sustainable Farming Scheme in its Agriculture White Paper issued today, Wednesday, December 16.

TFA Cymru Chairman, Dennis Matheson, said:

“There is a considerable amount of detail in the White Paper issued by the Welsh government and we welcome the long lead-in time provided to consider the proposals outlined.

Legislation is not expected to be introduced to the Senedd until summer 2022 at the earliest. However, it is very disappointing that on farm tenancies, the Welsh government is repeating the mistakes made in England by the UK government in what is now the Agriculture Act 2020.

“Specifically, the White Paper fails to address our concerns that farm tenants renting under short-term farm business tenancies [FBTs] may be excluded from participation in the new sustainable farming scheme due to restrictive clauses in their agreements requiring landlords’ consent which may not be forthcoming.”

‘A real danger’

Matheson continued:

There is also a real danger that many farm tenants will find themselves facing Notices to Quit if their landlords decide to resume possession to take advantage of the Welsh government incentives to plant trees.

“In England, Defra [Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs] recognised that restrictive clauses in traditional tenancy agreements, let under the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986 [AHA], may be a problem for tenants accessing new financial assistance schemes.”

“It provided a legislative backstop which would allow an AHA tenant to formally object to a landlord’s unreasonable refusal to allow access to new schemes.

“However, Defra argued that the more modern FBTs which are negotiated more regularly did not need the same protection.

This was a huge mistake and misunderstands the market in farm tenancies which is characterised by demand for land far outstripping supply, giving landlords the ability to let on terms which are favourable to them.

“Despite agricultural tenancies being a devolved matter, it seems that the White Paper merely repeats the arguments made in England which the TFA has already criticised.”

Taking a fresh look

“We would encourage the Welsh government to take a fresh look at this issue to ensure that no tenants are disenfranchised from being able to access new schemes,” added Matheson.

“We welcome the protection to be afforded to AHA tenants, but this must be extended to FBT tenants.

It is also vital that the Welsh government avoids the risk of a massive loss of land from the tenanted sector in Wales as landowners seek to take advantage of grants for land-use change such as tree planting.

“This would drive a coach and horses through the Welsh government’s objectives for ensuring the resilience of farm businesses and food production more generally.

“It would also be counter-productive against our climate change objectives if it leads to Wales reducing red meat production and instead sucking in imports from parts of the world with high carbon footprints.

“Subject to resolving these issues for farm tenants, there is much to be welcomed in the White Paper and we will seek to work productively with the Welsh government over the weeks and months ahead to shape the new legislation and the new schemes that will flow from it,” concluded Matheson.