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https://defrafarming.blog.gov.uk/2024/04/23/our-response-to-the-rock-review-one-year-on/

Our response to the Rock Review: one year on

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Tenanted sector
View of the estate with livestock grazing in background amid generally verdant scene.
Credit: The Lockinge Estate

The tenanted farming sector is a vital part of the rural economy. 

In 2022, the Rock Review, an independent report of tenant farming in England, was published. It included a number of recommendations to ensure the longevity and prosperity of the sector.  

Our response to the Rock Review set out our commitments in light of its recommendations.  

It is now one year on from the publication of our response. And, of the 75 commitments, we have completed or are working on 64. 

Today, we laid a Written Ministerial Statement in Parliament reporting on our progress.

In this post, we’ll summarise the progress we have made over the last year. We'll also shine a light on the role of the Farm Tenancy Forum and the collaborative approach of one farm in Oxfordshire. 

Farm Tenancy Forum 

In 2023, we established the Farm Tenancy Forum to improve our engagement with the sector.  

The forum includes members of our team and organisations representing tenant farmers, landlords and advisers. The members bring a wealth of experience and provide valuable evidence and insights which inform our farming policy and the implementation of our response to the Rock Review. 

The forum meets quarterly. Sub-groups focus on specific issues. It serves an important role: ensuring that we consider the unique challenges facing the sector and work collaboratively to shape policies. 

A code of practice 

One recommendation from the Rock Review was to embed good practice across all parts of the sector. 

As a result, the forum published the Agricultural Landlord and Tenant Code of Practice on 8 April 2024. 

The code has been endorsed by all members of the forum and will be promoted through stakeholder organisations. 

We encourage everyone involved in tenancy agreements to read and follow the code. It is designed to encourage clarity, communication, and collaboration.  

The guidance includes reaching fair terms, conducting productive rent reviews and negotiating termination and renewal. 

It also shares best practice regarding repairs, improvements and development opportunities. 

The code can be found on the websites of the National Farmers Union, Tenant Farmers Association, Country Land and Business Association, among others.  

Landlord and tenant collaboration on the Lockinge Estate 

We are encouraged by evidence of good practice in action on tenanted farms. One example is the Lockinge Estate in Oxfordshire. 

All the tenant farmers on the estate, whether on an Agricultural Holdings Act tenancy agreement or a Farm Business Tenancy agreement, are encouraged to enter environmental schemes and work together.  

In conjunction with the estate, several tenants (The Ridgeway Farmer Cluster) have committed to an application for the Countryside Stewardship Facilitation Fund which will support the work of the group. 

The land agent liaises with the estate’s farm tenants on a regular basis, seeking to understand their business aspirations and to ensure all parties appreciate the estate’s long term management plans.  

The estate offers long-term Farm Business Tenancies which are renewed well before their end date. 

Tenants are given freedom and flexibility to exchange land year on year to assist with crop rotation between the central dairy farm managed by a young farmer and the adjoining arable holdings. There is also the ability to swap muck for straw with each farm playing to its strengths. 

In addition, there is a willingness on the part of the estate to invest in new farm buildings (in agreement with tenants) to ensure an affordable return on investment. 

Housing is also made available – not only for the tenants but also their farm staff – through the estate’s affordable housing trust. 

This is an example of a flexible approach that makes the most of the skills of the tenant farmers on the dairy, beef, sheep, and arable holdings alongside the in-hand estate woodland management.  

Tenancy agreements form the framework but do not dictate the land management regime. Success depends on flexibility, continuity and communication. 

Environmental land management schemes 

In January 2024, we reported on our progress in supporting tenant farmers to access our policies and schemes. This included offering 3-year agreements for the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) to coincide with the average length of tenancy agreements.  

Capital grant schemes 

We have continued to improve accessibility to our capital grant offers supporting investment in farming equipment, technology, and infrastructure by reducing minimum grant rates and reviewing our intervention rates.

We have allowed landlords to underwrite tenants’ applications if both parties wanted to pursue this option. We also no longer require tenants to have a tenancy agreement in place for 5 years to access our grants, instead they only need to commit to holding the asset for 5 years. 

Tax 

We are removing tax barriers to enable landlords and tenants to access longer term environmental schemes. We announced in our budget that from 6 April 2025 we will be extending the scope of Agricultural Property Relief to include land managed under an environmental agreement.

This will open the way for greater collaboration between tenants and landlords so that both parties can access the benefits. 

Private markets and natural capital 

In March, we issued an update on our progress under the Nature Markets Framework, including the importance of ensuring that the tenanted sector can access opportunities that nature markets provide.  

We appreciate the work of the forum in developing further guidance on the management of ecosystem services on tenanted land and in showcasing best practice for approaching this within tenancy agreements.  

The forum will develop this activity following the outcome of the British Standards Institution’s consultation on their Overarching Principles Standard (the first of a suite of nature investment standards sponsored by Defra) to ensure tenant sector-specific guidance fits within these frameworks. 

Looking ahead 

As we continue to deliver our commitments, we will keep the needs and voices of the tenanted sector at the heart of our policies and schemes. 

If you have any questions about our work, do leave a comment below. 

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1 comment

  1. Comment by Keith Pickard posted on

    Very good and very informative thanks for that

    Reply

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