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Industry Calls For Active Tenants to get Environmental Payments

02 March 2015

UK – Environmental stewardship schemes should pay active farmers, not simply landowners, for assisting with producing environmental benefits on farmland, says the UK sheep industry.

A joint statement from the National Sheep Association (NSA) and the Tenant Farmers Association (TFA) has pointed to an “increasing momentum” for short-term tenancies to not be renewed by landlords in favour of land being placed in environmental stewardship schemes which exclude livestock.

Ending these Farm Business Tenancies in such a manner jeopardises the future of young sheep farmers, they add.

This is bad news for an industry “crying out” for young people, said Phil Stocker of the NSA.

Instead of having farm units operating, the remaining land excluded from the stewardship scheme is offered on annual grazing agreements and buildings are let separately, the statement explained.

This is an "unintended consequence" of the schemes.

The NSA and TFA have called for “lessons learnt” from the pressure of stewardship in the past to be applied in the tenanted sector. They also want to see greater acknowledgement of the “importance of grazing by livestock to support diversity of wildlife and plant species.”

Explaining what tenancies ending this way means, Phil Stocker, said: “While this type of asset stripping exercise might be a sound business move for landowners, it leaves tenants approaching the end of their agreement with an uncertain future.

“Displaced tenants, faced with little option, are forced to disperse their flocks,” he added. “Land that has been a single, often highly-regarded farm unit for many years is no more and the infrastructure of upland farming becomes gradually dismantled.”

George Dunn, TFA chief executive underlined the food security issue, calling on the government to make a decision about whether hard working tenant farmers should get the payments or private land owners who are “only interested in commercial gain”.

He accused private land owners in this scenario of delivering “little return for the stewardship payments and generous tax breaks they receive.”

He said: “Both TFA and NSA believe that only truly active farmers should have access to payments to assist with producing environmental benefits on farmland.

“An understanding of the consequences of past actions, whether intended or otherwise, must be considered when formulating future schemes.”

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