Eddie Gillanders: Top livestock and serious discussions are features of shows this summer
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THE show season is in full swing. Fettercairn, Echt and Banchory last month all enjoyed glorious weather, avoiding the rains of the wettest July on record, as did Nairn and Turriff, although Turriff did finally succumb to rain on the afternoon of the second day.
Let’s hope it has kept up for Black Isle Show and likewise for Keith on Saturday and Sunday and Grantown next week.
I was honoured to be asked to judge the “champion of champions” at Nairn where I awarded the championship to the sheep champion, an attractive Texel ewe lamb from Darren Irvine and Michelle Hanson of Upper Drakemyres, Forgie, in competition with the beef cattle champion, an eight-month old Limousin bull from the Rhind family of Newton of Struthers, Kinloss, and the horse champion, a yearling Clydesdale filly from Ian Young of Arradoul Clydesdales at Clochan.
An interbreed championship is always a difficult one to judge as the qualifying animals are all outstanding examples of their species having previously been selected as champion of their own category by an expert judge. Any of the three at Nairn would have been a worthy winner.
At Turriff on Monday, the “champion of champions” title went to the Charolais cattle champion paraded by herd manager, Andrew Reid, on behalf of owners, AJR Farms, Newlogie, Ellon, with the sheep champion, a Texel tup lamb from Jim Innes, Dunscroft, Huntly, in reserve place.
Away from the glamour of the showring at Turriff, there were some serious discussions going on about the big issues facing the farming industry at the present time, including an early-morning business breakfast hosted by the show society and agricultural consultants, Allathan Associates, with excellent presentations on proposed changes in agricultural tenancy law, future agricultural support and taxation planning.
NFU Scotland, with president, Martin Kennedy, and vice-president, Andrew Connon, in attendance, convened an open meeting with local politicians (minus Conservative MPs who were summoned to join Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, at Peterhead for his big announcement on licences for new oilfields) and an afternoon energy conference focusing on renewable energy issues.
At the breakfast seminar, solicitor, Lois Craig, rural sector specialist with Aberdeen law firm, Ledingham Chalmers, highlighted a number of agricultural tenancy aspects of the new Agriculture Bill likely to be brought before the Scottish Parliament later this year. She said the bill seemed “fairly well” intended in respect of supporting farming and food production but it was hoped it would also provide an opportunity for modernising agricultural tenancy policy.
One aspect being looked at is the situation where a tenant goes ahead with a diversification, such as forestry or agri-tourism, without the permission of the landlord which could be viewed as a breach of lease.
The Scottish Government, said Ms Craig, view this as a risk preventing tenant farmers to develop activities to help mitigate the impact of climate change on their farming businesses and denying them the opportunity to make their business more resilient to economic pressure.
“The overall intention is to ensure that tenant farmers have the same opportunities as owner-occupiers to benefit from undertaking environmental activities without being penalised for doing so,” Ms Craig explained.
The government is also looking to modernise waygo provisions which enable tenants to claim compensation for any improvements they have made during their tenancy when giving up that tenancy. The government wants to speed up the whole procedure, which is often the subject of protracted negotiation, and extend the list of eligible improvements.
Just about the only way a landlord can get rid of a tenant is if the tenant fails to pay the rent on time or is failing to follow good husbandry obligations – which Ms Craig, tongue in cheek, stressed was nothing to do with a husband being good to his wife, but practising good crop rotation, having suitable livestock and maintaining the farm properly.
The wording of the current good husbandry rules dates back to 1948 (and recorded court cases go back as far as 1776) but the government want the rules to be redrafted to allow tenants to undertake activities even if they are not written into the lease, provided they are following good practice.
Little change is envisaged to the methods of rent calculation although consideration of the general economic outlook for the next three years could become a factor, along with comparable rents and an assessment of the earning potential of the farm by means of a farm budget.
The proposed changes, if they happen, will be welcomed by tenants and should reduce the risk of disputes between landlord and tenant. Landlords may be less happy and may see the pendulum swinging a little too far in the tenant’s favour.