Scottish tenant farmers need the same access to tree planting as landlords; otherwise, Scotland risks missing its net zero targets.
Tenant farming, where farmers rent land from a landlord for a share of the crops produced, is vital to Scotland’s agriculture and the rural economy.
The Scottish Government has set a target to increase tree planting to 18,000 hectares annually.
To achieve this, Scotland must embrace a widespread adoption of agroforestry across various farm types.
According to Scotland’s Tenant Farming Commissioner, Dr Bob McIntosh, the policy settings discourage tenant farmers from engaging in extensive planting activities.
In a new briefing paper Removing Barriers to Tree Planting by Tenants, Dr McIntosh said tenant farmers can only plant trees if it is “ancillary to agriculture”.
Anything beyond this is considered “diversification”, where they require permission from the landlord.
The paper highlights the need for better guidance in creating tree-planting agreements between landlords and tenants and greater clarity on the status and treatment within agroforestry legislation.
UK’s Net Zero at Risk After Missing Tree Planting Targets
Agroforestry is a crucial part of the climate mix, with the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group on Science and Technology in Agriculture recognising its role in driving net zero.
Last month, Wood Central reported that the UK has failed to meet tree-planting targets due to a “failed generation of policymaking.”
Forestry England has planted less than half of the committed trees, whilst Scotland has removed 16 million trees over the past two decades to make way for renewable technology.
Reforms will allow tenant farmers to ‘opt-in for’ carbon markets
The Scottish government is looking to reform agreements between landowners and tenancy farmers as part of its proposed Agricultural Bill.
Wood Central understands that government supports broadening ‘diversification’, considered one of the reform’s major drivers.
By giving tenant farmers the same rights as Scottish landowners, they can “improve business resilience,” “reduce impact and mitigate the effect of climate change.”
Dr McIntosh welcomed the Bill, noting that “there is the opportunity for farmers to acquire carbon credits which can be sold or used to offset carbon emissions from farms.”
Under the current legislation, tenant farmers are disadvantaged due to uncertainty over compensation at the end of the tenancy agreements.
Dr McIntosh said that woodland expansion and tree planting initiatives “need to be made more accessible and attractive to tenant farmers.”
“They need to be able to access current and future support measures and be subject to compensation arrangements which are fair to both landlord and tenant.”
Tree planting on farms crucial to Scottish afforestation policy
The report says tenant tree planting is “not a common occurrence” and points to several barriers, including inconsistency between grant scheme rules and the diversification provisions.
Douglas Bell, Scottish Tenant Farmers Association Managing Director, fully supports removing barriers to tree planting for tenant farmers.
“Very few of our members have been involved in woodland creation largely due to the disincentives illustrated in Mr McIntosh’s paper.”
With increased tree planting on farms a crucial part of Scottish afforestation policy, “tenants need to be able to access future support measures on an equal footing to their owner-occupier counterparts,” Mr Bell said.
They must operate “without the risk of falling foul of outdated compensation arrangements.”
“We believe that current grant schemes need to be revised to provide further incentive for creating small-scale woodlands, which are more likely to go ahead on tenanted farms.”
Scottish Land and Estates legal adviser Jackie McCreery said the report supported the Tenant Farming Advisory Forum, “where the current legislation is perceived to throw up barriers to non-agricultural diversification.”
“There are detailed discussions still to be had on many aspects of the legislation, but we are confident that a balance can be struck between different interests so that a fair outcome can be achieved.”
“As far as tree planting on tenanted farms is concerned, where a potentially permanent change of land use is being considered, it is necessary to reach an optimal position for all involved – tenant, landlord and the environment itself.”