Government responds to Rock Review with reforms for tenant farmers

Taking on board the key recommendations of the Rock Review, Defra has today (24th May) announced new measures to support the long-term sustainability of the tenant farming sector, including the launch of a Farm Tenancy Forum and a consultation on appointing a Tenant Farming Commissioner in England.

The Rock Review was published in October 2022 by the Tenancy Working Group, chaired by Baroness Kate Rock, offering recommendations on how the government can best support the tenant farming sector. The Review incorporates input from key stakeholders from across the sector, including tenants, landlords and agents.

The new Farm Tenancy Forum announced by Defra is hoped to facilitate more collaborative relationships between landlords and tenants and help to shape farming policy considering the unique challenges facing the sector. The forum will be co-chaired by Julian Sayers and will provide regular feedback to government, strengthening Defra’s relationship with the sector.

A Call for Evidence will also be launched this summer to gather information on the benefits of having a Tenant Farming Commissioner in England and how this might work in practice.

Commenting on the announcement, Farming Minister Mark Spencer said: “I’d like to thank Baroness Rock and her team for their work on the review which underlined the vital importance of the tenant farming sector and the action needed to help it thrive.

“At the centre of her review was a call for tenant voices to be heard by government and that we remove barriers to accessing our farming scheme.

“That’s what we’re delivering – both through the measures announced today and in the progress that we have made over recent months, and I look forward to working with the tenanted sector to help make sure we’re delivering on their priorities into the future.”

Baroness Kate Rock welcomed the government’s efforts to act on some of the recommendations set out in the Review, but said more could have been done for the agricultural tenanted sector.

“I would (…) have liked the response to fully recognise all the findings of the Review, in particular regarding the increase in new clauses being inserted into Farm Business Tenancies, and on tenants engaging in diversified activities. Whilst I welcome the new Farm Tenancy Forum, this must be focused on implementing the findings of the Review to be successful,” she stressed.

“I would like to thank the Secretary of State, the Farming Minster and DEFRA for their proactive engagement throughout the Rock Review and their commitment to work together for a thriving agricultural tenanted sector.”

Responding to Defra’s recommendations to reform the tenanted sector, NFU vice president David Exwood highlighted the vital role tenant farmers play in delivering the government’s food production and environmental targets and growing the rural economy.

“We welcome much of what Defra has announced today including the formation of a new farm tenancy forum. This forum would meet regularly and consider how the sector is progressing throughout the agricultural transition and importantly, provide regular feedback on tenant / landlord relationships and agreements.

In agreement with Baroness Kate, he added: “It is essential the forum is up and running as quickly as possible to support the implementation of Defra’s recommendations to revitalise the sector.”

“Ultimately, these reforms must enable us to grow a more vibrant, accessible and resilient tenanted farming sector,” Mr Exwood concluded.

Ongoing support for tenant farmers

The government’s announcement today builds on actions already taken to help tenant farmers benefit from Environmental Land Management schemes (ELMs) and a consultation launched at Budget on potential inheritance tax reforms, as suggested in the Rock Review.

In a bid to create a fairer system that works in the best interests of all British farmers, the Sustainable Farming Incentive scheme was designed to be more accessible for tenants, allowing for applications to be made without landlord consent and offering shorter, three-year agreements which can be ended without penalty.

Moreover, around half of the 22 successful projects in the first round of the Landscape Recovery Scheme involve tenants working with other farmers and land managers, and work is ongoing on how Countryside Stewardship can be simplified and made more flexible to make it work better for tenants.

A Call for Evidence is also launching to explore potential tax changes, including changes to inheritance tax relief that could help encourage tenants to enter Environmental Land Management schemes.

The government’s pledge to level up the rural economy is also backed by over £168 million in grants being made available to farmers this year to drive innovation, support food production, improve animal health and welfare and protect the environment.

The second round of the Landscape Recovery scheme was also launched last week to support up to 25 more projects to protect and restore thousands of acres of the English countryside.

The government’s response to the Rock Review is available in full on GOV UK:

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