THE Scottish Tenant Farmers Association (STFA) has called on the Crown Estate Scotland (CES) to abandon plans to sell one of its tenanted farms, Auchenhalrig on the Fochabers Estate.

It is being advertised as 278 acres of prime arable land on the Moray Coast with a large traditional farmhouse and an extensive range of buildings with development potential, with a price tag of over £1,625,000.

STFA views the decision to remove Auchenhalrig from the tenanted sector as a grave error considering the scarcity of land to let and has written to Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham and Amanda Bryan, Chair of the Interim Management Committee of CES urging them to reverse the decision to sell.

In the letter STFA Director Angus McCall said: "We appreciate the financial challenges CES faces in meeting its commitments to maintaining capital investment in its rural properties to ensure farming units are fit-for-purpose to meet tenants' needs, but we believe a policy of selling tenanted farms to meet investment targets is a short-term fix and a retrograde step.

"Encouraging new entrants into agriculture has been a key policy of successive Scottish Governments and SNP administrations have been enthusiastic proponents of new entrant initiatives, such as the latest announcement by Cabinet Secretary Fergus Ewing to make over 1,000 hectares of publicly owned land available for new entrants. The Forestry Commission's starter farm initiative has successfully created nearly a dozen starter units on ten-year LDTs (Long Duration Tenancies) since 2012. The first of these will be coming to an end in four year's time and concerns have already been expressed about the next steps for these new entrants as their tenancies expire."

Mr McCall went on: "Recent work commissioned by the Land Commission has reinforced the message that availability of land is the biggest barrier to new entrants to agriculture. It therefore makes no sense for a publicly owned body such as CES to sell a 280 acre tenanted farm while other public agencies are scratching around to find scraps of land which could be used to help young people to make a start in farming. It will be particularly galling for tenants, whose starter farm tenure is coming to an end, to see a government owned tenanted farm being sold, probably to swell the acreage of a neighbouring farmer.

"STFA understands that one of the reasons for putting Auchenhalrig on the market is the investment required to bring the buildings and fixed equipment up to tenantable condition. However, we believe there must be scope within the government landed estates to realise assets and raise the necessary capital rather than sell much needed tenanted farms."