What did the Rock Review look at?
In 2022, 8.9 million hectares of land in England was farmable of which 64% was wholly or partly tenant holdings with the average term of new Farm Business Tenancies granted in 2021 being 3.03 years.
Given the high proportion of tenant farmers and their importance for feeding the nation and growing the rural economy, the Independent Tenancy Working group, chaired by Baroness Rock (hence the name) was established with two clear objectives:
- To consider accessibility to the government’s Environmental Land Management Schemes (ELMs) and the need for them to be open and flexible for tenant farmers
- To look at long-term changes needed to ensure a flourishing agricultural tenanted sector for the future.
Why was the Rock Review carried out?
These statistics show just how important tenant farmers are not only for food production but also for delivering the government’s environmental and economic growth objectives.
With the end of basic payments, consumer demand for tenant farmers to deliver more for the environment, supply chain issues, high levels of inflation and the increasing withdrawal of agricultural land for other uses such as solar farms, development and biodiversity, the pressures facing tenant farmers are vast.
With the largest financial change to agricultural support in a century, there could not be a more important time for such a review to ensure easy access to ELMs.
In addition to the above pressures, one of the key issues for tenant farmers is that Farm Business Tenancies are often granted for a short-term, are in a standard form and lack the bespoke provisions the tenant needs that in turn create barriers preventing access to ELMs which are vital to the financial viability of tenant farming businesses.
How will the Rock Review shape the future of farm tenancies?
The review considered the collaborative relationship between landlord and tenant and the tenancy agreements governing those relationships with the following being key areas to address:
- Improving the tenant-landlord relationship
- Ensuring the growth and viability of businesses in the tenanted sector
- Preventing tenant farmers from going bankrupt
- Minimising the loss of land from the tenanted sector
- Reducing ELMs complexity and ensuring flexibility and access for tenant farmers
- Public support for permanent land use changes including tree planting and the creation of habitats
On 24 May 2023, the government published a range of measures to support tenant farmers in response to the 75 recommendations proposed by the Rock Review. The government’s response shows the importance of the sector and the need to make ELMs agreements more flexible and easier to access.
Our Head of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, Penelope Edgar, will be publishing a further article on the findings of the Rock Review and the government’s response so watch this space for further information.