Nus Ghani, Member of Parliament for Wealden and a parliamentary representative for the Conservative Rural Affairs Group (CRAG), has secured and led a debate on tenant farming at Parliament.
Tenant farming is an agricultural system in which a landowner contributes land while the tenant contributes most of the labour, as well as capital and management. In East Sussex there are estimated to be over 35,000 hectares of tenanted land and throughout the country approximately 1 in 3 farms are tenanted. There are between 20,000 and 25,000 farmers who are wholly or mostly reliant on tenanted land.
Ms Ghani called the debate, which took place yesterday afternoon, following approaches from farmers in her constituency who raised concerns about the availability and security of land. The debate also comes alongside a campaign, led by the Tenant Farmers Association (TFA) and backed by Ms Ghani in her speech, aimed at increasing the average length of tenancy agreements (Farm Business Tenancies, or FBTs) offered by landowners. The campaign includes a call for changes to the tax regime to incentivise longer term agreements.
Arguing in favour of giving tenant farmers greater security through longer term tenancies, Ms Ghani said: “Farming is a long-term process and needs capital investment, patience, good soil management and the ability to balance profitable years against the bad. These things are not easily facilitated by short-term tenancies. As my constituent Elizabeth Buchanan, of Black Ven Farm in Nutley, said to me recently: ‘It encourages short-termism of the worst sort.’”
She said to the Farming Minister, George Eustice MP: “The party of which I and the Minister are proud to be members is itself proud of its long-term economic plan. Could the Minister tell us what discussions he has had with tenant farming representatives, and with the Treasury, to look into the possibility of making the changes I’ve suggested, and how these issues will be dealt with in his Department’s upcoming ‘25 year Food and Farming Plan’? Let’s bring the long-term economic plan to reality in the farming industry, and incentivise long-term tenancies to promote investment and economic security.”
Focusing on concerns raised by Sussex farmers, Nus discussed the availability of land for tenant farmers, saying: “In my county of Sussex in particular, Mr Chairman, the problem many tenant farmers face is that there is simply not enough land available to them. They want to expand, they want to invest, and they want to diversify, but they can’t.” She asked the Minister what steps the Government could take to ensure an increase, or at the very least to prevent a decrease, in the availability of land.
Responding, the Farming Minister said: “As my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden pointed out, the challenge of having such short-term tenancies is clear. If someone has tenure of the land for only three years, they do not have the incentive to invest in that land.
“We are interested in finding ways to incentivise longer term tenancies without losing the benefits of flexibility in farm business tenancies.”
George Dunn, Chief Executive of the Tenant Farmers Association, said: “I congratulate Nus on securing this important debate. Short term interests in land are damaging the resilience and development of the agricultural industry and ways to reverse the trend towards ever shorter farm tenancies must be found. It is vital, as Nus has identified, for the Treasury to grasp the nettle of the taxation environment within which landlords make decisions about letting land to encourage longer lengths of tenancy.”
In her role as a parliamentary representative for CRAG, Ms Ghani has already led a delegation of farmers, including a number from Sussex, to meet the Farming Minister and raise their concerns. A meeting between the Minister and the Sussex Farmers’ Business Forum is scheduled for the summer.
Photo: Nus Ghani MP, Farming Minister George Eustice MP and Stephen Wyrill, National Chair of the Tenant Farmers Association, following yesterday’s debate.