The Tenant Farmers Association (TFA) has congratulated DEFRA on making important improvements to the new Agriculture Bill, showing that it has taken on board many of the criticisms of the previous Bill.
New aspects of the Bill that are welcomed by the TFA include the addition of the protection and improvement of soils and the importance of native livestock as public goods, a brand-new section on food security, strengthened provisions on fair dealing within food supply chains and a commitment to multiannual financial plans.
In a major victory for TFA lobbying, the Government has dedicated a significant section of the Bill to reform of agricultural tenancy legislation.
TFA Chief Executive, George Dunn, said “The TFA is particularly delighted to see provisions within the new Bill providing protection for tenant farmers whose landlords may try to block their access to new public goods schemes. Tenants cannot always rely upon their landlords granting consent. It is therefore great news that the Bill will allow tenant farmers to object to landlords’ refusals. This will give tenant farmers the confidence they need to make plans and participate as they desire in whatever new schemes are brought forward by the Government”.
Alongside these positive developments, the TFA will be arguing for further improvements to be made to the Bill.
“Whilst the Bill is better than the one that went before, the task now is to ensure that we make it the best Bill it can be. For example, the obligation upon the Government to prepare a report on food security should be annual, not just every five years. The strengthened supply chain measures should be regulated by the Groceries Code Adjudicator and not given to the Rural Payments Agency to oversee. The schedule of changes to tenancy legislation also needs to be bolstered with further measures to assist older tenants into retirement, encourage landlords to let for longer periods of time and protect tenants from spurious notices to quit,” said Mr Dunn.
“Rather than supporting non-active landlords, it is also essential to ensure that future financial assistance properly supports active farmers – those in occupation of land, taking the entrepreneurial risk for the activities occurring on that land and in day-to-day management control. If the Bill does not spell this out, there will be a significant risk that public funding will be misdirected,” said Mr Dunn.
“There’s also nothing in the Bill that protects the UK market from imported food and food ingredients produced to standards that would be illegal within the UK. To date, the Government has shied away from legally binding commitments. It’s time for the Government to enshrine its strong words on protecting our standards in trade in legislation,” said Mr Dunn.