SAAVA AGM 15th March 2017
The acreage of agricultural land let in Scotland has shown a dramatic net loss of 28,000 acres over the period of a year.
The figure was revealed at the Scottish Agricultural Arbiters and Valuers (SAAVA) annual meeting (March 15th) by Jeremy Moody Secretary and Adviser to the Central Association of Agricultural Valuers . It may only be one statistic from the newly published Fourth Annual Land Agricultural Land Occupation Survey but it confirms a trend. “This is the largest of the year-on-year losses since the first survey in 2012,” said Mr Moody. To add to what Mr Moody called “probably a sorry story” there was not one single identified case of a letting to a new entrant.
The results of survey, compiled jointly by SAAVA and CAAV, covered more than 44,000 acres of let land and a further 17,500 acres of land on grazing and contract farming arrangements where decisions were made about occupation. It reveals a worrying trend for the already declining Scottish tenanted sector. “Of the let units that fell vacant in 2015, just a third were re-let, with the rest taken back in-hand or offered out on contract farming or other short-term arrangements while this year also saw a number of newly vacant units sold.,” said Mr Moody. “This has fallen from an historic re-let figure of 75% and from a half in 2015; if this is sustained, then the decline in the Scottish tenanted sector will accelerate.”
“Not only are we seeing very little land being newly let but land most holdings that were let on 1991 Act tenancies is now not re-let on LDTs and SLDTs. Nothing in these trends points to any revival of a sector that is shrinking fast. Having been the same fraction of agricultural area as in England in 1995, it could soon be half that size. What is it that would encourage a landowner or retiring farmer to choose to let land?”
Bare land (at 65%) also dominated the number of new lettings. “This established trend will change the character of the Scottish tenanted sector,” said Mr Moody. “This seems a natural consequence of the pressure for restructuring and the difficulty of justifying new investment in fixed equipment,” said Mr Moody. “This shift is important for debate about policy, which often assumes that a holding will be a fully equipped farm with a house. It can no longer be assumed that a holding is a self-contained farm – and the cost of rising expectations for the standards of agricultural housing may encourage this trend.”
The steady decline in the length of the average letting has reserved: it had fallen from 6.66 years in 2012 to 5.47 in 2015 but rose in 2016 to 7.49 years. This appears to be because of sharp fall in the number of SLDTs used, potentially explaining much of the fall in the total number of lettings with that land now sold or seeing other arrangements. It also reflects early re-lettings of the first longer LDTs.
“The Government’s Review Group said letting land in Scotland was seen as a high risk, low reward activity. Despite the simplicity and management of risk that a good tenancy system can offer, owners keeping land can be more comfortable with alternative arrangements, giving closer control over their land and which may have a lower investment demand, fewer taxation issues and less exposure to political uncertainty.”
For the first time in recent years, a number of landowners had sold holdings that fell vacant and some to their sitting tenants, said Mr Moody. Equally, land was being ear-marked for forestry and development.
In a surprising contrast to previous Surveys and especially 2015, none of the few new lettings to different farmers reported to the 2016 Survey were to new entrants. “This figure is usually between 20 and 30%. 2015 saw that rise to 50%, perhaps for BPS reasons, and that may be an influence on 2016. The more new lettings there are, the more opportunities there would be for new entrants and then, as importantly, for progressing farmers.
“Having a vibrant tenanted sector is valuable for the fabric of the farming industry,” he added. “In England and Wales the amount of let land grew rapidly following the creation of Farm Business Tenancies in 1995 but then stuck with the introduction of the Single Payment Scheme. A good tenancy system not only offers opportunities to new entrants and retiring farmers, it provides a simple flexibility for farmers to grow and thrive. If the Scottish Government does not find a way to reverse this worrying trend, then farming will continue to find other – such as contract farming – to look to its future, bypassing tenancies.”
Brexit will involve what CAAV Secretary Jeremy Moody described as a “ multi-dimensional kaleidoscope of work.” Warning delegates to the SAAVA agm at Dunblane (March 15) that “ nothing will be agreed until all is agreed,” he surmised that the fate of UK agriculture would lie in the market arrangements which emerged from a difficult set of negotiations. Having access to the Single Market was not the same as being in the Single Market and this distinction could turn out to be be important in a Scottish context.
“There may be an agreement which can be ratified by the EU Parliament by the spring of 2019, but if it is not it will have to wait until after the EU elections of that year with a whole new parliament in place by the autumn. I expect to see a long transition of trade deals taking us to 2022 or even 2025,” said Mr Moody.
“ Agriculture is normally the problem in when it comes to trade talks. It is politically difficult to do anything that would increase the cost of food. My guess is that there will be a no-tariff agreement with the EU. Just think what would happen to the Irish beef trade with the UK if it had a 50% tariff imposed.”
As far as support is concerned Mr Moody surmised that Brexit offered “the best opportunity since 1947 to think of new policies.” The search should be worldwide and not confined to the CAP.
“In Scotland you will need to rehearse the arguments for support. Then it will be key to know how much farm money support money is coming to Scotland. I would tend to assume that it will be the current share (16% ) rather than worked out on the Barnett Formula (11%)