MANY of the interesting aspects of the Agriculture Bill have been to some extent overshadowed. Here Craig Brough Head of Land Agency at Hopes Auction Company, looks at some of the items which have been incorporated into the Act.

A major change to the bill as it was proposed in 2019 is the inclusion of items relating to tenancy law. The Tenancy Reform Industry Group (TRIG) had been undertaking consultations in regard to tenancy changes, which due to the delay in the bills progress have now been able to form part of the 2020 bill. These changes whilst not vast provide some useful protection and flexibility to tenants , particularly in light of the evolving future of farm payments and the move towards payment public money for public goods and concern had been expressed in the consultations by the TFA that that many tenants are restricted to using their holdings for agricultural purposes only, and would be “disenfranchised” if landlords did not give consent for them to access new schemes providing public money for public goods. A new section be will incorporated into the 1986 Act, will give tenants the ability to request for consent or to vary the terms of a tenancy with specific reference to “enabling the tenant to request or apply for relevant financial assistance or relevant financial assistance of a description specified in the regulations”. This will ensure that tenants are not disadvantaged in being able to apply for future schemes.The next major area of changes surrounds succession rules and changes to the suitability and commercial units test, as well as the retirement age.To look first at the retirement age issues, a tenant could previously not serve a retirement notice until they reached the age of 65, this has now been removed and a retirement notice can be served at any time.The commercial unit test which would previously of barred you from applying for succession if you already occupied a unit which was deemed to be of sufficient size to be a commercial unit has been removed in its entirety the tenancy reform consultation stated that the “Commercial Unit Test” is now out of step with policy aims of improving farming productivity by encouraging the transfer of land into the hands of skilled commercial farmers.The third area of the suitability test has also been updated and in effect has been removed from the act with powers given to the Secretary of State and Welsh Ministers to set out in regulation the suitability criteria, but they must have regard to the following; The criteria must relate to the person’s likely capacity to farm the holding commercially to high standards of efficient production and care for the environment, and may in particular include; (a) criteria relating to the person’s experience, training or skills in agriculture or business management; (b) criteria relating to the person’s physical health, financial standing or character; (c) criteria relating to the character or condition of the holding or the terms of the tenancy. These I consider to be welcome changes to the suitability tests and reward and protect those tenants who have modernised their business and gained relevant skills and training in both animal husbandry and business management, which is a vital part of agriculture today.