“Use it or lose it” – Scottish farmers urged to make use of Tenants’ Improvements amnesty

Tonight (Thursday 13th July), I attended an event at Thainstone organised by the FAS (Farm Advisory Service) aimed to inform tenant farmers and landowners about important changes to tenancy legislation including the current Tenants’ Improvements Amnesty.

Agreed as part of the 2016 Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016, the amnesty allows for certain past improvements carried out by the tenant to be eligible for way-go (end of tenancy) compensation despite missing notices or consents. The amnesty opens on June 13 and will run for three years.

It was a very informative event and a chance to network with the farming community. I occasionally receive casework and queries about tenancy rights from farming constituents, so I took the chance to learn more about these important changes.

The main messages of the evening to tenant farmers and landowners were:

  • It is the tenant’s responsibilty to start the discussion with their landlord;
  • this is a time-limited process – don’t delay;
  • get professional advice

More information can be found in the Code of Practice – Amnesty on Tenants’ Improvements here.


Women in Farming and the Agriculture Sector

I wrote previously about the Scottish Government’s research project, the aim of which is to investigate the role of women in farming and the agriculture sector in Scotland under five headings: daily life, aspirations, career paths, leadership and comparative analysis with women in other family businesses. During the research, the importance of inheritance, training and farm safety also emerged as important issues. I have copied the findings below.

Executive Summary

In 2016, the Scottish Government’s Rural and Environment Science and Analytical Services Division (RESAS) commissioned research on ‘Women in Farming and the Agriculture Sector’. The overall purpose of this research was to establish a baseline position on women in farming and the agriculture sector, which then will inform future policies to enhance the role of women in these sectors.

The specific aim of this research project is to investigate the role of women in farming and the agriculture sector in Scotland under five headings: daily life, aspirations, career paths, leadership and comparative analysis with women in other family businesses. During the research, the importance of inheritance, training and farm safety also emerged as important issues.

The research was comprised of literature review, 9 focus groups, 30 interviews and two on-line surveys: in total, over 1300 women and 12 men from across Scotland participated. The research was undertaken from June 2016 to March 2017.

Key Messages:

Women play a major role in Scottish agriculture, participating in the full range of farming activities.

The cultural practice of passing on large farms intact to one son is the single biggest barrier to women’s entry into agriculture. This means land transfer is institutionalised culturally (i.e. it is a hegemonic practice) but not legally (i.e. there is no legal restriction against multiple inheritance or bequeaths to daughters).

Women are very under-represented amongst the elected leadership of national-level farming organisations (e.g. although over 1/3 of farm operators are women, the NFUS has no women amongst its national office holders, regional board chairmen or committee chairmen.

However, about half of NFUS staff are women). Women have more proportionate elected representation in the Scottish Crofting Federation (where 3/9 board members are women).

Most survey respondents would like to see more women involved in leadership of farming organisations, but only about 1/3 were personally interested in becoming more involved in leadership themselves.

Lack of time is a major barrier to advancing women’s roles on-farm and in farming organisations, and to accessing training (including continuing professional development, knowledge sharing, farm visits and industry events). Women in agriculture are very busy, juggling family responsibilities, farm work, housework, off-farm employment and volunteer work.

Some respondents reported exclusionary practices that take place in farming organisations (e.g. the unlikeliness of women being elected to committee positions; women being asked to leave meetings once the social elements were finished).

Approximately 18% of main survey respondents identified ‘Not welcome by existing male leaders’ as a barrier to their participation in leadership of farming organisations.

The Scottish Association of Young Farmer Clubs (SAYFC) was the most common provider of leadership experience to women in Scottish agriculture.

There is a clear need for more access to, and uptake of, vocational, practical training for women entering agriculture, across a range of topics.

Enabling new entrants to establish farms also enables more egalitarian gender relations. This and other research shows that when men and women enter agriculture together (through buying/ renting together at the outset) more equal gender relations exist.

Approximately 29% of survey participants expressed an interest in developing farm diversification activities in the next five years. This interest was particularly marked amongst crofting respondents (38% expressed interest in developing diversification activities).

Women and men engage in many unsafe farm behaviours as a result of different demands and activities not accounted for in recommendations on safe practices.

Women in family businesses outside of agriculture face far fewer barriers to business involvement and leadership.

Scottish Government’s concerns about recognising the role of women in agriculture are similar to those shared by the European Union and national governments (e.g. Australia, Northern Ireland).

Key Recommendations:

The cultural practice of passing on large farms intact to one son needs to be challenged. Other models should be explored (e.g. in the rest of Europe it is not possible to disinherit other children). Increasing the discourse on inheritance practice (e.g. in farming organisations and the farming press) can lead to change in practices.

Succession planning is poor and families are reluctant to discuss it together. Access to professional advice on succession planning, as well as awareness raising and support, should be offered to all members of farm families.

The practice of only having one named tenant on a croft should be revisited to critically evaluate the gender implications. In an instance of divorce, spouses can lose access to the family home on the croft.

Conscious and unconscious bias needs to be addressed in farming organisations. A programme of measures is necessary and the following are recommended:

  • A 30% quota system for farming organisation boards and committees
  • Mechanisms to enable progression from the SAYFC to the National Farmers Union of Scotland Council (e.g. mentorship, establishment of a ‘young farmer’ or ‘new entrant’ council position).
  • Establishment of a ‘talent bank’ of suitably qualified women for farming positions (identifying their skills and interests, offering training opportunities, and encouraging farming organisations to recruit from this pool when positions became available).
  • Identifying women mentors to support male and female apprentices

If women-only networks and activities are supported, this should be through mainstream farming organisations, and not as separate fringe events.

Practical, hands-on training programmes need to be developed and made accessible to women through flexible scheduling, childcare availability and on-line components. Topics of primary interest to study participants included: livestock husbandry, animal health, accounting, business entrepreneurship, large vehicle driving, environmental protection and legal compliance.

Women should be supported to pursue a range of farm diversification opportunities, at a variety of scales.

More land should be made available for new entrants (e.g. on Crown Estate Scotland land, from large estates (of all ownership types), and through a ‘matching service’ with older farmers).

To increase farm safety, financial incentives, for farmers to purchase equipment appropriate for women and to encourage the use of childcare facilities, should be developed. Further research is needed to consider how to plan a farmyard for women and ageing farmers.

Are our land-based industries fit for the future?

Land based study summary FP 9 3 16

The results of an in-depth study looking at the future of land-based industries such as agriculture and farm forestry in the north-east of Scotland are made public next week. (Tuesday, March 15)

The first report of its kind since 2008, “Facing the Future” identifies some of the major challenges and opportunities for the key elements of north east’s economy. Agriculture, farm woodlands, farm diversification including renewables, the input supply and processing sectors, skills and education infrastructure and the wider rural economy are considered and analysed.

The region represents only 16% of Scotland’s agricultural area, but punches well above its weight, producing a high proportion of its crops and livestock – nearly half of the national crop area, two thirds of pig production and a third of Scotland’s finishing cattle.

The multifaceted rural industry faces a number of significant challenges such as slowdown in the local oil and gas economy, exchange rate volatility, generally lower levels of Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) farm support and downward price pressures driven by the retail sector.

The North East Scotland Agriculture Advisory Group commissioned the study against this backdrop, to look at whether our land-based industries are fit for the future. It covers the local authority areas of Aberdeenshire, Moray and Angus and builds on a series of reviews of agriculture in Aberdeenshire.

The study is supported by Aberdeenshire, Angus and Moray Councils, Scottish Enterprise, HIE Moray and Forestry Commission Scotland. It identifies the development of premium products as a major opportunity, including the expansion of soft fruit production, continuing strong demand globally for Scotch whisky – and the growth of currently small-scale food and drink businesses to add value to local farm produce. Increased technical efficiency, greater adoption of new technology and best practice, capitalising on renewable energy and diversification into food tourism are all seen as further possible opportunities.

The study does however recognise the impact of global and local financial slowdown on land-based businesses’ ambitions for the region. Threats include future skills shortages, climate change and the possibility of the UK leaving the EU, and there are concerns that resources available in future for land-based training and education may not match up to industry needs.

The critical importance of the processing sector is considered in detail along with the future implications of land reform and proposals to extend Legal Rights to immovable assets in inheritance law. The key issues for the industry as a whole are identified and recommendations made for the commissioning organisations.

The study team consulted widely with industry to gather evidence and elicit views. Both the main and summary reports feature case studies which explore how land-based businesses are adapting to and preparing for the future.

Infographics have been prepared to show at-a-glance the essence of the areas of Aberdeenshire, Angus and Moray and the changes they face.

Land based study infographic 9 3 16

NESAAG Chairman, councillor Bill Howatson, said: “Some vital issues are highlighted in the report, not least the accelerating pace of change in farming, the role of processing, food and drink, agri-tourism, farm woodland and labour.

“I’m delighted that the North East Agriculture Advisory Group has been able to commission this study with support from partner organisations which collectively reflect the wide interest in, and commitment to this part of rural Scotland.”

Peter Cook, who led the study team, added: “Previous studies tended to show a high degree of stability – production systems and the size of farms and labour forces changed, but the headline numbers of livestock and areas of crop did not. “In the current study period there has been much more change. With falling prices and further Common Agricultural Policy reform on the way, there is scope for even more radical change over the next seven years.  “So one of the key aims of the study was to help create a vision for how the sector and the businesses within it can develop and grow in future, and how they can be helped to realise their potential.”

You can view the study online, including its recommendations on what needs to be done and what is needed for the future, at: http://www.aberdeenshire.gov.uk/facingthefuture/

Common Agricultural Policy Roadshow dates announced


Farmers and crofters across Scotland will have the opportunity to find out more about the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) at a series of Scottish Government roadshows.

35 public events will take place between the end of October and the start of December.

At each roadshow  officials will explain how CAP support will be delivered from 2015, and what farmers and crofters need to do to receive CAP funding. Farmers and crofters will then be able to ask questions about the new system, as well as find out all the key dates and deadlines.

The new CAP comes in to effect on January 1st 2015.

Your local roadshow will be held at Thainstone Mart, Inverurie, Tuesday November 18, 2014, 7pm.


Rural Affairs Working Group

Horses 1

I was delighted to be a substitute member today on the Rural Affairs Working Group held at SRUC at Craibstone.  As well as admiring their artwork (see pictures), we received an excellent presentation from Chris Stockwell, Head of Agriculture & Business Management Department and Richard Huxtable, Head of Farms Group. We heard all about their teaching programmes and the SRUC Consultancy Services. SRUC work with a raft of partners across the North East, the rest of Scotland and the United Kingdom.

Committee were then updated on the Rural Internship Project, a joint initiative between Aberdeenshire Council, Ringlink and the Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society (SAOS).  The meeting concluded with an update on the Common Agriculture Policy Pillar One 2015-2020.



Advice for dog-owners from the National Sheep Association



Our countryside is peppered with pregnant ewes and newborn lambs just now – one of the most enjoyable yet stressful times in the farming calendar. The National Sheep Association has issued some timely advice on the law in Scotland around dogs and sheep to ensure that livestock are protected.

Under the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953, if a dog worries sheep on agricultural land, the person in charge of the dog is guilty of an offence. The Act considers sheep worrying to include attacking sheep, chasing them in a way that may cause injury suffering, abortion or loss of produce or being at large (not on a lead or otherwise under close control) in a field or enclosure in which there are sheep.

Under the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, access rights do not allow members of the public on to land with a dog which is not under proper control.

The Scottish Outdoor Access Code

The Scottish Outdoor Access Code (SOAC) lays out the responsibilities of people enjoying their access rights and of those who manage the land. It offers guidance for people enjoying the countryside with their dogs and says: “In exercising access rights, you must keep your dog(s) under proper control. You must also ensure that your dog does not worry livestock.” The Scottish Outdoor Access Code says ‘proper control’ means different things in different situations, but when around sheep you should:-

Not take your dog in to a field where there are lambs. Go in to a neighbouring field or on to adjacent land. In open country, keep your dog on a short lead (2 metres or shorter) when there are lambs around and keep away from them.

Keep your dog on a short lead or under close control if you need to go in to a field where there are sheep. The SOAC defines ‘under close control’ as at heel and responsive to your commands. Stay distant from the sheep.

Keep your dog under close control in more open country where there are sheep and stay away from them. The SOAC reminds dog owners that in some cases a farmer has the right to shoot a dog that is attacking their livestock.

If you are handling a group of dogs, make sure that they do not cause alarm to livestock.