10th Mar


TFA Media Release – MR20 /12 – Tenant Farmers Association 38th AGM – National Chairman Report by Mark Coulman – 10 March 2020



Report from the National Chairman – Mark Coulman

It is an immense honour to take over the Chairmanship of the Tenant Farmers Association (TFA) at what is a crucial moment for the agricultural industry as we leave behind the policy framework of the European Union and we begin to develop our own policies in each of the devolved nations of the United Kingdom.  As an organisation covering England and Wales, the TFA has been playing an active role with both DEFRA and the Welsh Government to ensure that they properly take into consideration the needs and aspirations of the tenanted sector of agriculture, along with all others who do not own the land they use for farming.

As I step up into my new role, on behalf of all members, we owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to my predecessor, James Gray, who stands down after three years in the role of National Chairman.  He has given many years of service to the Association both in the south-east region and nationally.  He has been a doughty campaigner on behalf of the active farmer and has always sought to take a pragmatic, business-like approach to the many issues upon which the TFA needs to have a view.  He has been particularly driven to seek reform in organisations such as Red Tractor and the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) and I am sure that he will continue to make his voice heard in these spheres.

I am looking forward to the next three years knowing that the TFA has both a strong and respected voice in the agricultural industry and in using that position to good effect to secure a vibrant let sector of agriculture into the long term.  Alongside me as officers of the Association I am pleased to have two able and strong advocates in Robert Martin, from Cumbria as National Vice-Chairman, and Helen Radmore, from Devon as Junior National Vice-Chair and Treasurer.  I am delighted too that Dennis Matheson, continues in the role of Chairman of TFA Cymru.  Dennis is doing a great job as an ambassador for the TFA with both Welsh Government and a wide spectrum of stakeholder organisations within Wales. Between the four of us we cover the length and breadth of England and Wales and a broad range of farming sectors including dairy, beef, sheep, arable, pigs, upland and lowland and farm diversification.

Before I address the challenges and opportunities which lie ahead and what I see as the priorities of the TFA in addressing those, I must first reflect on the year just passed and again the weather and Brexit have been dominant features on the agricultural landscape.  Whilst in 2018 we saw the extremes of a cold, hard winter and a hot summer, in 2019 we had relatively benign conditions at the beginning of the year followed by a blisteringly hot summer and an appallingly wet back end which has continued into 2020.

The lack of winter and spring crops in the ground is of major concern.  Many farmers having had a relatively good harvest in 2019 are looking at massive losses in the year ahead.   That is why the TFA has called upon landlords to consider offering rent abatements to the affected tenants.  It is only right that landlords should share the financial burden in the year ahead rather than expecting to be in receipt of the same level of rent as they had been used to in more normal conditions.  We are also encouraging farmers to seek formal rent reviews given the prevailing economic conditions and the future direction of travel for Government policy which will see a ramping down of direct payments whilst new environmental schemes are launched.

More immediately, the TFA along with other partner farming organisations, is pressing the new DEFRA Secretary of State, George Eustice, to abandon the crop diversification rules of the Basic Payment Scheme for the current year.  Mr Eustice has always been clear of the need for DEFRA to be able to respond in a practical way to issues as they arise rather than having to be tied by a rigid regulatory framework.  The current circumstances are such a case and need urgent action from DEFRA.  We cannot allow farmers to be forced into a position of trying to establish crops that will come to nothing and cost them dearly whilst, at the same time, damaging soils and equipment.  Neither should they be penalised for failing to meet the three or two crop rule this year given the severe natural handicaps that are clear for all to see.  There is no excuse for the Government not to act in response to this.

The climate has certainly moved into a more volatile cycle with extremes of all weather types occurring with greater frequency than we have seen them in the past. This must lead us to consider measures both to adapt to the new conditions we are experiencing whilst we also seek to attempt to mitigate our own impact on climate change as much as we can.  Unlike many other businesses that can mostly control the environment within which they are operating, farming is massively exposed to the vagaries of climate and weather.  This is reason alone for Government not to take a hands-off approach in terms of policy towards and support for the agricultural sector.  There is a growing recognition of the need to consider food and environmental security as going hand in hand in delivering national well-being targets.  Certainly, Wales has hardwired the concept of well-being into its primary legislation and with the new Agriculture and Environment Bills currently going through Parliament, the concept of public payments for public goods is a banner under which the Government is currently pitching its policy for agricultural and wider land use.

Despite this, there seems to be a failure in taking a systems approach to the extremes of weather which we are now experiencing.  Coping with excessively large volumes of water falling on land over the winter, coupled with much longer periods of hot, dry conditions in the summer needs some fresh thinking.  Clearly our land drainage and river systems are not up to dealing with the amount of rainfall we now experience through the winter months of the year.  There is no silver bullet that will solve this problem.  We need a combination of actions and changes in procedures.  Many rivers do need to be dredged in order to increase the available capacity to move water more quickly through catchments.  Better local management using the Internal Drainage Board structures that have been so successful in the East of England should be rolled out nationally to work hand in hand with the Environment Agency in bringing local expertise, knowledge and practical effort to play in our local drainage systems.  It is also essential that we ensure that our infrastructure of pumps and attenuation ponds are adequate for the increased volumes of water in the system whilst we reduce inappropriate development in floodplains and in other places which exacerbate problems in individual catchments.  Equally, we should look to developing a greater degree of capacity for winter storage of water for use on farms in the drier months of the year.  Whilst protecting dwellings is an understandable priority, this must not be carried out at the expense of leaving farmers to shoulder the burden of holding water on farms in an unplanned way.  Many farmers will be willing and able to assist with catchment management schemes that must be properly rewarded for the benefits they are providing to the wider society.

The Prime Minister has committed to £100 billion of spending on infrastructure over the next five years to deal with issues such as improving the road network, building hospitals, improving fibre broadband and enhancing flood defences.  However, the Government has said little about improving the water infrastructure across the country including river management, drainage and winter storage of water on farms.  We need the Government to wake up to the reality of its responsibility in delivering a significant improvement in our water management systems.

The TFA is also calling for a more measured approach to dealing with climate change mitigation and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  Frankly, there has been much nonsense spoken about the impact of UK agriculture and it has been particularly worrying to see the unjustified vilification of the red meat sector by sections of the media and some campaigning groups.  As in all walks of life or other sectors of the economy, there is more that UK agriculture can do to reduce its carbon emissions, but it has been unfairly targeted as the villain in the piece.  Whilst global carbon dioxide equivalent emissions from agriculture account for one quarter of all emissions, in the UK, domestic agriculture is responsible for 10% of emissions.  Given that UK agriculture covers 70% of the land area of this country, this leaves the remaining 30% of the land area responsible for the other 90% of emissions.  Acre for acre, land in agricultural use is therefore over 20 times more carbon efficient than land in all other uses.  Agriculture is also a major store of carbon with grassland alone estimated to be holding one third of the nations below ground carbon store.  Grassland also sequestrates carbon from the atmosphere over a greater part of the year than trees.  Methane, whilst acknowledged as a potent greenhouse gas, has been found to have a very short life cycle in the atmosphere in comparison to carbon dioxide and grazing merely recycles carbon that is already within the atmosphere rather than creating new carbon emissions through mining or releasing locked-in carbon from the ground.

It is for these reasons that the TFA was particularly critical of the conclusions contained in the report from the Climate Change Committee on Land Use, calling for a 20% reduction in the consumption of beef, lamb and dairy.  The TFA has accused the committee of scapegoating the agricultural industry for the problems occurring in other parts of the economy and society.  Rather than focusing on measures to decarbonise, the committee chose to look at using the route of carbon offsetting through the planting of trees.  It identified grassland as the most appropriate place for a significant increase in tree cover and to avoid the potential to offshore our carbon problem, called for a 20% reduction in meat and dairy production to stop the UK sucking in imports from less carbon efficient parts of the globe.

The TFA is not arguing that tree planting should not be part of a package of solutions for dealing with increasing concentrations of carbon in the atmosphere.  However, we appear to be rushing headlong towards a policy of massive expansion of tree cover without properly thinking through the consequences.  The best thing that UK consumers can do in respect of their diets is to switch away from imported products and consume more of the livestock and dairy products produced at home.  We must pause and draw breath while we consider a proper systems approach to the issues we need to resolve here.

Turning to the political environment, in the absence of a working majority for the Government in the House of Commons through 2019, we experienced more heat than light on the Brexit issue.  The sheer amount of effort and political capital directed at attempting to make progress on Brexit meant that little progress was made on a wide range of other issues that needed the Government’s attention.  For example, the Agriculture Bill introduced to Parliament in the autumn of 2018 saw no progress at all through the whole of 2019 eventually having to be scrapped following the second attempt to prorogue Parliament and then its dissolution in advance of the 12 December General Election.  However, having been resurrected by the Government in January, the new Bill is in much better shape than its predecessor – more of that later.

Despite the general lack of progress within the political realm through 2019, there was one area of specific progress in that both the Welsh Government and DEFRA issued parallel consultations on agricultural tenancy reform following the long running discussions that had taken place within the Tenancy Reform Industry Group (TRIG).  The consultations represented the first major review of agricultural tenancy legislation since the process which led to the Regulatory Reform (Agricultural Tenancies) (England and Wales) Order 2006.  However, the changes made in 2006 were minor in comparison to the changes proposed within the recent consultations.

However, most of the proposed changes within the consultation targeted tenancies regulated by the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986.  With approaching half of the land within the tenanted sector in England and one quarter of the let land in Wales now being farmed under FBTs, it was disappointing that the consultations had little to say about addressing the needs of this part of the let sector.  The FBT sector is characterised by lack of security, restrictive clauses and high levels of rent.  This is not a great recipe for sustainability, resilience, high levels of productivity and great environmental outcomes.

In fact, the TFA believes that the only sensible way of addressing lengths of term is to encourage good practice through alterations within the taxation framework around which decisions on land ownership and land occupation are made.  It was therefore a major missed opportunity not to include consideration of taxation mechanisms to effect change within the consultations.  Since the introduction of Farm Business Tenancies, average lengths of term have hovered around the four year mark.  However last year, the Central Association of Agricultural Valuers reported that average length of term had hit a new low of 2.9 years.  90% of all new FBTs are now let for five years or less.

If we are serious about creating the right environment for investment, productivity growth and good environmental management, this pattern of short termism must change.  If the market will not deliver this, and the history of the last quarter of a century provides little evidence that it will, the Government has a role to play in facilitating this change.  With much higher demand than supply, landlords can offer short terms for high rents at very little risk and obtain 100% Agricultural Property Relief from Inheritance Tax. By contrast, the short-term nature of tenancies is damaging progression, investment, sustainable land use and social cohesion in rural areas.

With the amount of land let under FBTs likely to exceed land let under the Agricultural Holdings Act soon, the resilience of the tenanted sector of agriculture will rely more upon FBTs.  With average lengths of term as described and with the spread of tenancies offered tending to be skewed to the much shorter lengths, this is a real concern.  With such short lengths of term, tenants lack the ability to plan for the long term either in relation to their agricultural activities or in their desire to take part in diversification activities and agri-environment schemes.  The Government must use its fiscal levers to deliver the change we need.

In a chink of light in this respect we were pleased to receive a letter from George Eustice MP just before his elevation from Minister of State to Secretary of State DEFRA in which he said the following:

“Moving on to address your concerns about the length of farm tenancy agreements, the Government recognises that farming is a long-term business and I am interested in exploring ways in which we can encourage more landlords to consider longer term tenancies whilst retaining the flexibility that Farm Business Tenancies currently provide.  We will continue to work with the Tenancy Reform Industry Group to look into the role that industry led guidance and best practice can play in setting out the options and benefits for tenants and landlords of longer term tenancies and I welcome the valuable contribution that the TFA continues to make to this work.  I also recognise that the fiscal framework plays an important part in landowner decision-making.  Rest assured we will continue to engage with HMT about such matters to share information and feedback views from farming stakeholders on this issue.”

With the new Chancellor of the Exchequer delivering his first budget tomorrow (11 March) there has been much talk about potential changes that might be in his mind in respect of capital taxation within the agricultural sector particularly as it impacts upon landowners and landlords.  We hope that he will take on board the proposals which the TFA has made as follows:

  • Restricting the generous, 100% Agricultural Property Relief from Inheritance Tax (currently available to all landlords regardless of the length of time for which they are prepared to let land) only to those prepared to let for 10 years or more, or on new tenancies (eg successions) with security of tenure under the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986. Landlords should have the opportunity to lock this in from the start of the tenancy. Also, in order not to disturb the availability of land for high value crops which require rotation, there should be an exemption for any land let for up to 2 years where it was not let at any time in the 12 months immediately prior to the letting.
  • Offering landlords prepared to let land for 10 years or more the ability to declare their income as if it was trading income for taxation purposes. This should be guaranteed to Landlords for the duration of the lease.
  • Clamping down on those land owners who, through schemes promoted by agents and accountants, are using share farming, contract farming, share partnerships and grazing licences as thin veneers of trading activity and as vehicles for aggressive tax avoidance where in practice they take no risk in the business, have little, if any, entrepreneurial input and lack any management control.
  • Reforming Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) to end the discrimination against longer tenancies. SDLT is calculated based on the net present value of the rental stream, it has a built-in level of discrimination against longer term tenancies.  This is working against the objective of seeking to encourage longer term lengths on agricultural land.

It was also disappointing to see little within the consultation documents about the future of County Council Smallholding estates.  This is despite it being one of the major tenancy issues that made it into DEFRA’s wider Health and Harmony policy consultation in 2018.  The TFA endorsed the Government’s intention, as flagged within Health and Harmony, to encourage a vibrant network of County Council Smallholding estates for both new entrants and progressing farmers.  One of the biggest barriers for new entrants into farming and those seeking to progress is lack of opportunity.  Whilst it is important to provide suitable incentives to new entrants, it will also be important to ensure that viable opportunities for succession are also available.  County farms are a significant part of the solution here.

In England, over the past 30 years, we have lost a third of the farmland held by County Councils and the number of tenant farmers on those estates has more than halved.  The TFA believes that where a local authority provides a smallholdings service, it has both to offer opportunities to new entrants and to work to sustain existing tenants in their farming career into the long term, so that they can continue to be farmers on their own account, be that on their own estate or in the private sector.  It is not enough to merely oversee a conveyor belt approach where new entrants come on at one end and fall off at the other when they cannot make the transition to the private sector.  Either smallholdings authorities need to put resources into ensuring that their tenants can make the transition to the private sector or, if this is not possible, look at extending existing tenancies and providing longer term tenancies for the security of and investment by those granted initial opportunities.

The TFA understands the financial pressures faced by local authorities in managing their various commitments which has led to several becoming actively involved in or considering an accelerated programme of farm disposals.  However, this move to wholesale disposal threatens to undermine the objective of county farms as stated above.  Research has shown that county farms are the principal route into farming for new entrants.   The long-term decline in the number and area of county farms is a major blow to the agricultural industry and the nation’s long-term interests.

However, the TFA recognises that local authorities can realise significant sums through the sale of individual farms or pieces of land with development potential.  The TFA does not oppose such sales as it recognises the benefit of the income to local authorities whilst maintaining (and possibility enhancing) the bulk of the agricultural estate.  Yet, once farms are sold, they are gone forever.  There have been numerous occasions where the development benefit of land and farms sold by local authorities has been taken by the purchasers of the farms.  The TFA would advocate that all local authorities look to take a more long-term, strategic and patient approach to disposals which will enable maximum benefit with minimum disruption.

Local authorities must consider decisions about disposal or retention of assets in the context of “best value” for council taxpayers.  It has been increasingly demonstrated that measured against a policy of selling to sitting tenants or disposal to third parties as and when vacant possession is obtained, that best value is more often obtained through county farms being managed in accordance with a sound, asset management plan which allows for major profit taking from future disposals of land for significant development uplift.

The TFA believes that County Council Smallholding estates should be viewed as national rather than local assets and as such there should be a greater degree of national co-ordination in their management.   The TFA is greatly concerned about the ad hoc nature of policy towards county farms up and down the country.  Some local authorities run their estates extremely well and others perform not so well.  As noted above, some local authorities have decided to follow a policy of disposal and others one of retention.  For such an important asset in the landlord/tenant system a more co-ordinated approach is necessary.

Therefore, the TFA believes that central Government has a role to play in achieving this through the DEFRA Secretary of State having renewed powers, to improve the scrutiny of current local authority county farms estates by requiring and signing off long-term, rural estate plans written in accordance with the guidelines for good rural estate management published by the Association of Chief Estates Surveyors and endorsed by the members of TRIG.  If these rural estate plans include proposals for disposals (part or whole), DEFRA should have the responsibility to scrutinise the proposals to ensure best value.

Despite our criticisms of some of the issues that did not receive coverage in the consultation documents, there were a number of good ideas which we are pleased to see both DEFRA and the Welsh Government agree to take forward within the reconstituted Agriculture Bill currently proceeding through Parliament.  These changes were those which both DEFRA and the Welsh Government considered to be the most important and least contentious of the proposals set out in the consultation document.  These include the following:

  • Providing tenants with a new mechanism to challenge restrictive clauses within AHA tenancies on a case-by-case basis relating to access to financial assistance schemes or requirements to meet statutory standards.
  • Removal of the minimum age of 65 at which an application for succession on retirement can be made.
  • Alignment of the trigger age for a Case A notice to quit on County Council Smallholding estates with the state pension age of the tenant.
  • Abolition of the commercial unit test from the provisions on tenancy succession in return for replacing the current suitability test for succession with a new business competence test.
  • Ring fencing landlords’ returns in respect of their investments in fixed equipment on AHA holdings against consideration within rent reviews.
  • A technical change to the 1986 Act making third party determination a usable alternative to arbitration in AHA rent review disputes.
  • Updating the list of organisations that can appoint an arbitrator to settle disputes to include CAAV and ALA alongside the RICS.

Whilst we welcome the first of these changes, which will allow a tenant the ability to object to a refusal from the landlord for consent to enter into a scheme introduced under the financial assistance provisions of the Agriculture Bill or to carry out works in accordance with a statutory obligation, currently this would only apply to tenancies regulated by the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986.  These provisions must be extended to tenancies regulated by the Agricultural Tenancies Act 1995. The TFA has secured the tabling of an amendment to the Bill which would achieve this if accepted.

There was a further legislative change which was not deemed to be contentious following the tenancy reform consultations which, inexplicably, the Government has decided not to take forward.  This was a provision to encourage landlords to consider letting for longer periods of time on FBTs.  The proposal was to allow landlords granting new FBTs with an initial minimum term of 10 years and without Landlords’ scheduled break clauses, the ability to terminate the tenancy early in the following circumstances:

  • non-payment of rent (as an alternative to forfeiture).
  • breaches by the tenant of contractual terms or conditions.
  • the death of the tenant.
  • the landlord’s need to remove land from the holding where planning consent has been granted for non-agricultural use subject to tenants receiving compensation equivalent to their real losses.

The TFA has provided written evidence to the Agriculture Bill Committee on these changes and we are engaged with MPs and Peers who we are asking to table amendments to the Bill for discussion at committee stage in both Houses of Parliament.

Looking at the Bill more widely, the TFA is pleased to see several other improvements in comparison to the Bill introduced in the last Parliament.  These include the following:

  • The recognition of the importance of soil quality and the conservation of native livestock as public goods.
  • A requirement for the Government to have regard to the need to encourage the production of food in an environmentally sustainable way.
  • The requirement for the Government to produce multi-annual financial assistance plans.
  • The requirement upon the Government to report on food security.

The TFA welcomes the scope of the new financial assistance powers within the Bill, particularly the powers to provide financial assistance for productivity which the TFA would like to see the Government use imaginatively and in a plan-led way.

However, the TFA believes the list of public goods in the Bill is incomplete.  Although outside the list of public goods the Bill provides duties upon the Government both to bring a report to Parliament on food security and to have regard to the need to encourage food production, these elements must be included within the scope of public goods. Also, whilst we welcome the inclusion of the conservation of native livestock in the list of public goods, the TFA believes that this should be extended to include all pasture fed grazing livestock systems, particularly those within an upland context.

In the context of the legislation being an Agriculture Bill, the TFA believes it must restrict the financial assistance powers such that they are available only in respect of individuals who are operating units which are predominantly agricultural in nature.  There must also be a clear limitation of who can be considered a beneficiary by ensuring that it targets only “active farmers” or “active land managers”.  These we define as those individuals being in occupation of, or with rights of common over, the land they are farming, taking the entrepreneurial risk for the decisions made in relation to the management of that land and in day to day management control.

Whilst not objecting to a seven-year transition to the new arrangements, we do believe that the transition should start in 2022 rather than in 2021 as currently planned.  In that we are creating a new policy framework for a generation, the TFA believes that it is better for it to be introduced well rather than quickly.  We fear that a rushed implementation could lead to significant problems both in terms of the administration of new arrangements and for the industry.  Therefore, we believe that the seven-year transition should start a year later than stated.  The TFA believes that the Bill should also reserve the necessary powers to ensure that DEFRA does not lose any money recouped from direct payments if, for whatever reason, the new financial assistance schemes proposed are not available to the extent necessary to make full use of the available funding. The TFA believes that any surplus funding identified on an annual basis should be reallocated through direct payments until sufficient schemes are available.

The Government should also be clear about its plan for phasing out direct payments.  We know what is to happen in the first year, but we would like to see clarity about the way in which the remaining years of the transition period will be handled and, in particular, an assurance that smaller recipients will be protected for a longer period of time in comparison to larger recipients to help with farm business adjustment.

The TFA supports the concept of delinking payments and the provisions for providing a lump sum payment in lieu of future direct payments.  The TFA believes that this will be of significant assistance to progress restructuring within the industry allowing individuals to use both de-linked payments and consolidated payments to retire from the industry or invest in their businesses or to invest in other economic activities either on their holdings or elsewhere.

We are delighted that the Government is proposing to reserve significant powers to regulate the operation of supply chains and, in particular, relationships between farmers and first purchasers. The TFA believes that this is a vitally important role for Government in the face of significant market failure within agriculture and food supply chains. However, it is concerning that the Government does not see this forming part of an expanded role for the Groceries Code Adjudicator. The TFA sees no reason why this responsibility should be placed anywhere else other than with the Groceries Code Adjudicator.

The topic that is uniquely uniting farming, environmental, animal welfare and consumer organisations is a concern to ensure that the Government commits to legislation to guarantee standards in trade in food. Whilst the Government is hiding behind the line that for now European standards have been incorporated into UK law, this can only be guaranteed until the end of our transition period with the EU in December of this year.  We need a long-lasting commitment which nails our standards into primary legislation.

This is not a Party-political issue, voices from all political Parties and persuasions have supported the call for legislation in this area.  Legislative protection is also in line with Government policy.  Several senior figures within Government have publicly stated a commitment to protecting our high standards in trade negotiations, but this can only be delivered within the World Trade Organisation framework if we have these standards written into statute.  Without a legislative commitment we will offshore environmental, animal welfare and social injustice whilst at the same time undermining the sustainability of high standard domestic production.

It is foolish to think that the retail and foodservice supply chains would ensure that consumers could make a choice on this matter through clear labelling.  Consumers are regularly duped through the use of fake farm brands, co-mingling of meat products from different countries but in similar packaging or the use of the word British to describe a style of cooking rather than the origin of the ingredients.  Nothing short of strong legislative standards will do.

As we look ahead to a future outside of the traditional support arrangements the industry has come to rely upon, there will be a need for more of a market focus.  That means winning more of our domestic market whilst at the same time focusing on raising the value of our exports.  It is here that we see scope for a renewed mandate for the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) within a significantly reformed structure.

AHDB derives the bulk of its income from a statutory levy generated from the farming and horticulture sectors, delivering around £60 million per annum to AHDB which it spends across its six, sector boards.  £60 million per year is a sizeable budget in comparison to other organisations within the sector.  Of course, it could be argued that it is small by comparison to the business development budgets within other sectors of the economy.  However, this is money taken on a mandatory basis from the profits of hard-working farmers and growers who need to be assured that it is being well spent and invested to deliver value for the industry into the long term.

That the organisation has been permitted to levy its income and spend funds on a statutory basis without a rigorous, independent value assessment being executed, represents a major failure of governance.  It is vital that every penny of the budget at the disposal of AHDB is used to drive the sustainability, resilience and profitability of UK agriculture and horticulture.  However, it must do so in a way which corrects for wider market failure rather than supplying, freely, services which are available through other means and for which a hypothecated tax is therefore unnecessary.

The TFA believes that market and export development should be the main priority for a newly constituted AHDB in a significantly reformed setup.  The ability to find routes to market both domestically and internationally is an important need for the industry, particularly in the post Brexit environment, and one upon which AHDB should be concentrating much more.  We have a vibrant, domestic market for food and food products, but farmers and growers often have difficulty in finding their place in the market and achieving fair returns.  This is an area where AHDB should be providing both support to farmers and growers together with a challenge to the supply chain.

The export market should also become a primary development target for AHDB.  This is an area into which, to date, AHDB has only managed to dip its toe in the water with some early success in the Chinese market.  This must become a greater focus for AHDB.  It will only be able to achieve this if there is a major structural reform of AHDB which is currently a limiting factor.  Too much power rests with the sector boards within AHDB.  The TFA believes that the strategy for AHDB should reflect the overarching needs of the agricultural and horticultural sectors and that the aims and objectives of the strategy should be implemented by the sector boards in accordance with the overall strategy rather than, what appears to be the case now, taking their own view.

AHDB urgently needs a renewed remit, a business plan and structure commensurate to need.  This should then inform the overall level of budget required and how this should be funded via levy.  The current situation appears to be one where the expenditure is simply determined by the level of income.  This needs to be reversed so that the organisation has a clear mandate with firmly established key performance indicators to measure success and the budget and levy are informed by the business plan rather than the other way around.

Returning to our core business, the TFA is the only organisation dedicated to representing the needs of individuals who do not own land they use for farming purposes.  Whether that’s through an agricultural tenancy, a share farming agreement, contract farming, grazing licences or use of common land.  We will always put the needs of the active farmer first.  Within the landowner/land occupier system, we must find a way of modernising and bringing into the 21st century, the relationships between landowners and those who occupy the land, and in particular the role of agents, who can have a key role to play in ensuring economic sustainability for both parties.

As we know tenants and other non-landowning farmers have a unique set of entrepreneurial skills in order to operate farming and rural businesses without the comfort blanket of land as an asset. We are well placed to take advantage of the opportunities that the market offers us and its incumbent on landlords and agents to work collaboratively to enable businesses across the rural community to thrive.  It’s vital that relationships between landlords, agents and occupiers work together, not as adversaries, to take advantage of the new landscape to ensure that farming and the wider rural business community prospers. If over the coming three years of my chairmanship of the TFA there is some improvement in these relationships, the legacy will be long lasting and to the benefit of all.

There is no doubt that the coming three years, and beyond, will be a rapidly changing business landscape and the challenge for me, as National Chairman, and the TFA, championing the case of those farming land they don’t own, will be to ensure that the entrepreneurial skills of the sector are protected and provided with opportunities to develop and thrive within the agricultural and wider rural industry.  I firmly believe that a strong, thriving, non-land owning sector will always deliver a strong, thriving rural community, and one for which the general public can be proud and supportive.

The TFA is also focused on ensuring that our members are ready for whatever circumstances arise.  This includes a focus on issues such as mental health and well-being, something about which we more and more find it easier to address.

In delivering services to members we work with many sponsors, partners, affiliates, Recommended Professionals and other organisations to whom I am immensely grateful for the continuing support and assistance provided to the TFA and its members.

The small but dedicated team of staff at Head Office continues to work tirelessly on behalf of members and I’m grateful for the time, energy and diligence they put in to ensuring that TFA members receive the highest level of service and support.

Finally, the TFA would be nothing without its members and I am appreciative of all who put their trust and support in the TFA.  The more members we have more able we are to represent the interests of the sector so I would encourage anyone who is not yet a member and farming land they do not own, to sign up as a member of the TFA without further delay.


Ref: MR20/12     

Date: 10 March 2020

Notes for Editors:

Mark Coulman, has been a TFA member for over 20 years, serving as East Midlands Regional Chairman, National Vice-Chairman and now Chairman on the retirement of James Gray in March this year.

Having graduated in Agriculture and Food Marketing from Newcastle University, and undertaken consultancy roles and sales and marketing roles within the agricultural software industry, Mark returned to the family farm in 1993, succeeding as tenant in 1997.

Farming 235 hectares of arable land, cropping wheat, rape, sugar beet, peas amongst other things, as well as flower growing which diversified into a successful flower import, packing and distribution business. Mark has managed several diversified businesses and believes in the ability of farmers to be successful entrepreneurs.

Currently, the farm is involved in developing a care & social farm enterprise, providing opportunities for adults and children dealing with challenges to improve their health and well-being. The opportunity to develop this offer within the public money for public good framework is a particular interest.

Mark is a firm believer in the ability of the tenanted sector to deliver successful, sustainable farm businesses which both produce quality food and environmental sustainability for the good of the wider rural community.


The new officer team for the TFA will serve a period of three years until March 2023.  The Association’s officers are:

National Chairman – Mark Coulman, Lincolnshire

National Vice-Chair – Robert Martin, Cumbria

Treasurer/Junior National Vice-Chair – Helen Radmore, Devon


For media enquiries contact Julia Meadows, TFA Communications and Events Co-ordinator on 0118 930 6130 or 07887 777157.


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