Conference discussed new opportunities for Northamptonshire and Warwickshire tenant farming sector

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Creating opportunities for tenant farmers in a changing farming landscape was the theme of a national conference hosted by the NFU in Warwickshire.

With more than 60% of England’s farmed area managed by tenant farmers, industry leaders, experts, institutional landlords and tenant farming members came together at NFU Headquarters, at Stoneleigh, to discuss the future of the sector.

The NFU’s Tenants Conference on 16 April was chaired by NFU Deputy President David Exwood and attended by Farming Minister Sir Mark Spencer and attracted farmers from all regional counties.

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NFU regional board chair Jane Bassett, who represents farmers across the region including Northamptonshire and Warwickshire, said: “As an upland farmer with tenanted land and having many friends who are tenant farmers, this sector has long given me cause for concern.“I know many superb hard working tenant farmers, who are resourceful and excellent food producers and custodians of the land.

Jane Bassett on farmJane Bassett on farm
Jane Bassett on farm

“The tenanted sector also has always offered a foothold to new entrants to our industry, breathing new life and ideas into uplands businesses.

“The New Code of Practice, looking at where there is bad behaviour, and encouraging better communication in landlord/tenant relationships is a real step forward.

“To have real teeth and deliver meaningful change though a Tenant Farming Commissioner with statutory powers would be welcome.”

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NFU Deputy President David Exwood said tenant farmers were some of the most dynamic and forward-thinking farmers he knew.

Mark Meadows, Warwickshire NFU chair and NFU regional board deputy chairMark Meadows, Warwickshire NFU chair and NFU regional board deputy chair
Mark Meadows, Warwickshire NFU chair and NFU regional board deputy chair

"I am a tenant farmer myself and we play a vital role in producing food for the nation while delivering the government’s environmental targets, helping to grow the rural economy and being at the heart of rural communities.

“Just like all other sectors, tenant farmers across the country are feeling the squeeze; the cumulative loss of direct payments over the past four years and the slow transition to the Environmental Land Management scheme (ELMs), together with high input costs have created real cashflow issues. However, as tenants we don’t often have the financial capital to pivot to embrace new opportunities in the same way as non-tenant farmers, which leaves us particularly vulnerable.

“Now we are dealing with the immense pressure of what the adverse weather is throwing at us, with months of non-stop rain and some of the worst flooding on record, causing further financial and mental wellbeing concerns.

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“Over the past few weeks we have seen the rollout of the Farm Tenancy Forum and actions and recommendations from the Rock Review being implemented.

“The NFU played a significant role in campaigning for the Agricultural Landlord and Tenant Code of Practice which also launched recently. Its aim is to help foster fairness, address poor conduct but also highlight good practice and provide a good basis for ongoing tenant-landlord relationships – but to make meaningful impact it will need to be adhered to by all parties.”

Mark Meadows, Warwickshire NFU chair, who farms at Alderminster near Stratford, said the event generated much needed debate and discussion on the important issues impacting tenant farmer members.

He said: “For example, it is crucial now that the government ensures its new farming schemes work for tenant farmers.

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"Progress has been made on SFI but as more options become available, we have to make sure tenant farmers aren’t disadvantaged, particularly in the uplands, to ensure it delivers for both government ambitions and for tenant farmers across England.

“By working together, we can and must create new opportunities for tenant farmers which will help us to deliver a robust, vibrant, and thriving agricultural tenanted sector for the future.”