Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Prove it.

The Farmer recently engaged in a conversation with another farmer and invariably, news, gossip, who had died, etc was swapped. The other farmer told my husband that someone he knew was thinking of passing his farm to one of his several daughters (assignation) and there was some consternation over 'a lassie taking over'.

I have strong feelings about this and the way the existing tenancy laws appear archaic where women and tenancy are concerned.
Heaven forbid but should a female partner of a tenant farmer become widowed, she has to prove that she is experienced enough to continue running the farm. All aspects are taken into consideration (including financial) yet, in my opinion, excluded are the day to day roles a tenant's wife undertakes.

Can you calf a cow, plough a field, step into the farmer's wellies should he be taken ill? Can you do the books, order in supplies, fix a broken tractor? Can you run the farmhouse, do a decent job of raising children, feed cattle, worm and dose sheep, work out a crop rotation, do soil analysis, shoo the ducks out of the house, keep on top of the ever changing bureaucracy, hold down a part time job/ full time job, mend fences, patch wellies, lamb a ewe, ad infinitum....?
Well, yes you can and you do. Half the time nobody sees your work but then, you are not looking for acknowledgement, you are merely doing what is required.

If you are bequeathed a large estate of many thousands of acres which encompass many tenants and houses, are you required to prove your worth? I don't believe that you are but with the laws of primogeniture being the way they are in Scotland, the odds will be that the new laird of an estate is male and therefore does not have to prove anything to anyone of his 'competence' in running an estate. Does he have to show how much money he has to anyone? No.

Very different for, e.g. a newly widowed tenant with say, less than 500 acres to run and the pressure on her to prove her ability.

I know a couple of female tenants and one of them is the absolute top in her field. Her stock is superb, highly acclaimed and she is very well respected for her knowledge and ability; yet this is a fairly unusual situation in farming, tenant farming especially.

I also know of another tenant farmer's wife who was tragically widowed young and who not only lost her much loved husband but her home and business too due to her inexperience in farming. This woman held and holds down a highly professional job outwith the farm and no doubt contributed hugely to the farm income yet these issues are not considered.

There appears to be a call for new entrants to farming and it will be very encouraging to see young women and men starting out in our profession but surely the restrictive views of assignation must be considered and changed? Can you imagine how difficult it must be for someone who has just lost a partner/ the father of their children/ workmate to go through the ordeal of proving they are worthy and capable of running the farm whilst grieving and adjusting to their loss?
Certain large estate agents, who appear to run estates, are not known for their humanity but rather their fondness for money and subsidies. Often, the human factor is ignored and the monumental task of a lone widow having to stand her case to these people is too much to cope with so farms are lost, tenancies are lost.

What other industry would you have to prove your ability and finances after the death of a partner when all along you have been the invisible 'orraperson'? **

I am also unable to find out where a same sex partner stands in the assignation laws? Would a man have to prove his worth, ability and finances if he wished to continue the tenancy on the death of his husband? I don't know the answer to that question but feel this is an area which has been ignored.

I propose that these issues could be avoidable through introducing agriculture and agricultural law as part of the National Curriculum. For those who wish to farm after us, make things easier for them by enlightenment, education, hands on experience beginning at an 'O' level basis (or whatever O levels are called these days).  If people have to prove they are worth (and please realise how demeaning this is) then help acknowledge their work in the first place, all aspects of their work.

This goes for lairds too. If the widowed tenant has to prove her/his ability then so must the new laird - after all, his actions have the ability to change lives - he has the land and the power.

The French addressed 'Liberte,egalite,fraternite ou la mort' circa 1763.
Prove your worth, Scotland and show us what equality really means - we will do the rest.

**orraperson - Jill/Jack of all trades

Monday, 17 February 2014

Lies, damn lies and statistics.

I wanted to update on the farm issues, given that seven months have passed since the meeting with the estate, MP and Scottish Land and Estates.
The main points raised were the farmhouse, roof in particular, a water supply, the replacement of march fences and the land which was taken from us without compensation.

The farm was given a water supply on Christmas Eve last year, a connecting pipe from the supply which feeds the big school (and runs through our farmland) was installed. Good to have a supply but it is fairly intermittent having had a series of bursts in the last few days.

Roof? Surveyors came and surveyed the house last year. Decent, professional fellows who never complained when the hall ceiling fell at their feet. 
Has anything progressed since they submitted their report to the estate?
Have the estate replied to my emails enquiring about progress?

March fences. 
We sent the estate a copy of an estimate from a good fencing contractor. Response?

Land resumption.
The issue was addressed by the estate after ten years of asking them to acknowledge the problem.
The grand sum of £42 was offered. This is supposed to cover our loss of crops, loss of SFP, pheasant damage to crops, rodent and pest (rat and pheasant) damage to stored silage bales, vehicular damage to non land resumption area amongst other issues. Forty two pounds.
Fearing this over-generous compensation, the estate then showed up with the game tenant and hinted strongly that now this 'game strip' was sterile and useless after ten years of bad management, they wanted a fresh two acres from the opposite side of our most productive field. Compensation was not mentioned.
Setting aside the arrogance and entitlement here (for land we still pay full rent yet cannot use), this ruination of what was once excellent, fertile ground illustrates ignorance and sheer greed, greed to whack in crop after crop of kale, year after year, no organic matter, outside contractors to work the land we pay full rent for.
Has the issue been remedied?

Improved communication.
Initially after the meeting, communication with the estate had improved but this appears to have slipped. My emails have not been answered of late.

Overall conclusion of the results from the meeting?
A complete waste of time however it was good PR for SL&E to be seen to have been proactive with a tenant farming family. The trouble is that being seen doing something and actually implementing the issues are very different.

Multiply our problems with similar experienced by tenant farmers all over Scotland and you can just about gauge the frustration and exasperation in our industry. The main question being "How do you get these estates to actually DO something?" "How can SL&E say that millions of pounds of investment is being thrown at farms?" "How can you get the laird to implement his side of the tenancy agreement without having to involve expensive and lengthy legal battles?" (Answer, you can't).
From the Secure 1991 tenant's viewpoint, the 'investments' are non existent unlike the lies and spin which are spread as thickly as the Somme like mud on our farm.

We attended the annual Scottish Tenant Farmers Association dinner in Perth on Friday night, the guest speaker was Professor Jim Hunter.
He proposed a radical change. Do away with the existing, overtly complex and untenable tenancy laws which are only able to be interpreted by a handful of Agricultural lawyers (costing approx £160 per hour.)
Do away with viewing tenant farming as a separate type of farming to, say, crofting, small holding, etc.
Give the tenant (including the Limited Partnerships*) ARTB. - (My personal view would be to concentrate on 1991 Secure tenants only).
Give the land back to the people. 435 individuals own 50% of Scotland. There are approx 5 1/2 million people in our country. 
The statistic speaks for itself. 
Professor Hunter for First Minister with a cabinet of Andy Wightman, Lesley Riddoch, Ron Greer, Rob Gibson, Alastair McIntosh and others who eloquently debate land reform.

We have to undergo months of enquiries, meetings by quangos and from the tenant's point of view, it is beginning to look like The Judean Popular People's Front versus The People's Front of Judea. The reality is that the future of tenant farming lies in the hands of four lawyers (plus one tenant, a new entrant?).
Meanwhile, the land itself suffers from poor management, housing is dire and a stasis befalls the country like a prolonged Bach fugue.
The buzzword is 'vibrant' tenant farming and so help me, I want to slap anyone saying this with the side of a wet fish.

Plain old 'farming' would suffice, whether we are crofters, small holders or whatever. Give us our farms and we will do the rest. We know what is required and see through the lies, damn lies and statistics.
ScotGov, just drop a gear on this, please? The tenants will tell you what you what needs to be done. Just listen to them and implement what they say instead of toadying to the lairds who ruined the land in the first place. 21st Century Scotland is the same for tenants as it was for their Great Grandfathers. 
Are you not ashamed of this statement?

A roof, better living conditions and freedom from feudalism. In Scotland 2014.

* Edited 25th February. My apologies for stating an incorrect type of tenancy.