Agricultural tenancies: Tenant farming and the Rock Review 2022

Agricultural tenancies: Tenant farming and the Rock Review 2022

In October 2022, an independent report by the Tenancy Working Group (chaired by Baroness Kate Rock), was published – the Rock Review (the Review). It sets out various concerns in the tenanted sector and makes recommendations for action by Defra to try to address these.

The government is yet to respond.

The Review highlights the need to balance the rights of tenant farmers and landlords. Its primary take-away message is that “collaboration and communication between all parties is the foundation of the way forward.”

What issues did the Rock Review cover?

  • Relationships between landlords and tenant farmers, including Landlord-Tenant Agreements
  • Growth and viability of businesses in the tenanted sector, including preventing bankruptcies
  • Loss of land from the tenanted sector (e.g. to natural capital markets)
  • Complexity of financial schemes and whether these are flexible and accessible
  • Public support for permanent land use changes such as tree planting and creation of habitats

What were the Rock Review recommendations?

The Review made “recommendations to deliver a more resilient tenanted sector that can deliver sustainable food production, meet the challenges of climate change [and] deliver improvement and enhancement of biodiversity.”

These were structured into recommendations requiring immediate action from Defra[1] and those requiring action over a longer timeframe[2]. Over 70 recommendations were made within 18 “headline” recommendations.[3]

The first headline recommendation requiring immediate action was that all Environmental Land Management (ELM) schemes and Productivity schemes must be designed to be accessible and open to tenant farmers.

One key element here is tenant farmer autonomy. The Review suggests that tenant farmers should be able to enter tenanted land into schemes without landlord consent, and conversely, that landlords should not be able to do the same without the tenant’s consent.

Provision of access to these schemes was also a concern noted in the House of Lords Select Committee Report on Land Use in England (December 2022). The government was due to respond to that report on 13 February 2023 and Defra’s policy paper Government food strategy (June 2022) suggested that the awaited Land Use Framework for England would be published at the same time.[4]

The recent Defra update on Environmental Land Management explains that some progress has been made in relation to accessibility of schemes[5] but further detail is expected as the government responds to the Review.

What does the Rock Review say about Landlord-Tenant agreements?

The Review has recommended that the Law Commission is instructed to review the law on agricultural tenancies and land use in England. It wants legislative changes to “open up the ability for tenants to diversify their businesses without the landlord unreasonably refusing consent” (and in defining what is unreasonable, for consideration to be given to “how the diversification impacts the landlord’s tax status, land value, and estate management plans”). It also wants some of the existing protections afforded to Agricultural Holdings Act 1986 tenants to be extended to FBT tenants.

The Review recommended that there should be a broad consultation on tenancy reform in 2023 and wants part of this to address “why FBT agreements are not making use of the flexibility available within the Agricultural Tenancies Act 1995”. The Review notes that many tenants “argued that the FBTs legislated for in the 1995 Act are no longer fit for purpose.”

Further, the Review recommended that Defra appoints a Tenant Farmer Commissioner whose remit should include examining and strengthening dispute resolution processes.

[1] E.g. recommendations relating to various financial schemes, incentives, and investment issues.

[2] E.g. recommendations relating to proposed steps towards legislative reform, and how land agents are licensed to improve accountability.

[3] See the full list at pp.17-21 of the Review.

[4] Government food strategy at 1.2.3. This is expected to reflect the government’s objectives for “English Agriculture, the environment and net zero“.

[5] E.g. tenant farmers do not require landlord consent to take part in the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI).

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