Agricultural tenancies – the CLA’s response to Defra’s call for evidence

Judicaelle Hammond sets out the CLA’s work on Defra’s call to evidence on the tenant farming sector to help make sure it thrives and works for all parties
AON. Ballon over Wye Valley Farmland by Stephen Bell, Cheshire.jpg

The CLA has responded to Defra’s call for evidence on encouraging good practice in the tenant farming sector and looking at the potential role of a Tenant Farming Commissioner.

This is a milestone in the ongoing work we are doing on farm tenancies on behalf of our members. Our work feeding in landowners’ perspectives is painstaking and persistent. It is nevertheless crucial in making sure there is a thriving tenancy sector in England; one that works for both parties.

This blog summarises what we have been doing recently, sets out the main points in our response, and explains how we are involving our members in this work.

Recent developments

The government published its response to the Rock Review in May 2023. Our analysis of that response can be found in a June blog by my colleague Helen Shipsey. In brief, we thought the proposals that were selected for implementation were pragmatic, and rightly put the emphasis on collaboration.

Since then, Defra has started several pieces of work to implement the response.

  • CLA President Victoria Vyvyan represents landowners on the Farm Tenancy Forum, alongside Ian Monks, the Chair of the CLA’s Institutional Landowners’ Group (charities, educational establishments, companies etc). The Forum’s next meeting will take place next week and will look at the best way to gather statistical evidence on what is happening in the sector.
  • An expert working group under the Forum has been tasked with drawing up a Code of Practice for all parties – tenants and landlords, but also their agents. We helped shape the draft Code, which is out for consultation, to ensure it is pragmatic rather than prescriptive, promotes collaboration, and can be used in a wide range of scenarios.
  • A technical group, on which we also sit, is working on the detail of Environmental Land Management scheme design. It aims to ensure that these schemes are accessible to tenants. Most of the time, this will be aligned with landlords’ interests. For some types of activities and some types of scheme agreements, however, that will not necessarily be true. So, we are arguing for a cautious approach, and for the need to secure landlords’ consent.

Collecting and reflecting members’ views

Any member who has met me will know I am fond of figures. But figures can have limitations. Surveys offer a useful snapshot, but when respondent numbers are small (and self-selecting), you only get a partial picture. It’s true of the recent Tenant Farmers Association survey that recently captured headlines; it’s true of our own survey on the same topic. Only through official statistics with a large random sample can you get a proper view of what is happening in the tenanted sector. And that’s what we are vigorously arguing for.

In the meantime, to respond to Defra’s call for evidence, we used a member survey (responses covering c.2,100 agreements), the views from a member working group on tenancies, the expertise of our Legal Parliamentary and Property Rights Committee (which is meeting again to go through the draft Code of Practice) and comments from individual members.

The conclusion from this extensive work is that examples of poor practice are rare. There is friction, especially under the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986 regime. Managing multi-generational relationships can be tricky. However, most problems could be resolved with better communication and more transparency between the parties. We hope the Code of Practice will help with that.

Among the members who gave us their views, there was good awareness of the various complaints and dispute resolution mechanisms at their disposal, although lack of speed and costs hampered their effectiveness. Many smaller members were put off pursuing disputes by costs and the likely damage to their relationship with tenants who are often neighbours too.

The idea of establishing a Tenant Farming Commissioner was met with scepticism. Our response to Defra reflects our members’ concerns about bias against landlords; who would shoulder the costs; and additional constraints and bureaucracy. We’d like to see the Code of Practice bed down before any further steps are taken. Should Government pursue the Commissioner concept, our response made it clear that it would only be acceptable if balance and independence were clearly written into the remit of the post and the characteristics of the person recruited into it.

We always welcome members’ feedback and ideas (as a landlord, or – as many members also are – as someone else’s tenant), so please contact us at to share your experience of what works and what could be improved in the ways tenants and landlords work together.

In the meantime, we will continue to campaign for an equitable system, for policies that promote collaboration while respecting property rights, and for measures that are based on robust data.