The Scottish Tenant Farmers Association (STFA) has warned a cash boost for tree planting across Scotland will threaten the future of the country’s tenanted farming sector.
The group voiced its concerns after Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing unveiled the Programme for Government on Wednesday, September 2, which awarded £150 million to the forestry industry.
Just £10m was made available to the agriculture sector, as part of the pilot Sustainable Agriculture Capital Grant Scheme (SACGS), which will help farmers change practices to meet Scotland’s net zero commitments.
SFTA chairman Christopher Nicholson suggested the plan would make tree planting an attractive alternative to tenant farming for landowners, with land available for new entrants and farmers to rent becoming scarcer and existing tenancy agreements in danger of not being renewed.
He said: “Additional tree planting on this scale threatens the future of the tenanted sector, as marginal land, which traditionally provided opportunities for new blood to enter farming is diverted instead into forestry.
“STFA is aware of some secure tenants who are being put under pressure to relinquish their land for forestry development.”
Mr Nicholson also pointed out tenant farmers are prevented from taking part in some environmental schemes, including woodland creation, due to the terms of their lease.
“Although tenants with security of tenure may plant trees with the consent of their landlords, legal constraints have usually proved to have been a disincentive,” he added.
“In effect, tenants are not able to operate on a level playing field with owner occupiers, a situation which must be addressed if the tenanted sector is to survive and prosper.”
SACGS will run for five weeks, offering grants of up to £20,000 for farmers and crofters to purchase new equipment, and is part of the Agriculture Transformation Programme, which has already dedicated £1m to help farmers and crofters diversify into forestry.
STFA will request a meeting with Mr Ewing to discuss the impact of increased tree planting targets and other barriers to diversification on the tenanted sector, including the protection of existing tenants being forced to give up land for forestry without adequate compensation and finding ways to encourage tenants to take advantage of tree planting and other diversification options.