Don’t let issues with your local farmer crop up

Letting your local farmer use your land and receiving the odd envelope, a bale of hay, a slab of meat or vegetables in exchange may put you in a tricky situation.

Ghislaine has retired in a sunny corner of the French countryside for a while now and owns a few acres of agricultural lands next to her property but she is no farmer. Every Tuesday at the local village’s market, she buys local products from a local farmer, Romain, and she mentioned to him that she could use someone to cut the grass. Romain offered to let his cattle graze on her lands and generally maintain the plots in good condition. They shook hands on it and Romain started to look after Ghislaine’s land every now and then.

On one occasion, Romain thanked Ghislaine by giving her a few Euros, another time he gave her some hay and later, he gave her some meat and vegetables. After a few years, a paper was signed in order to formalise the fact that Romain was using the land for free. This seemingly working arrangement carried on until Ghislaine died.

On Ghislaine’s death, her children receiving the estate decided to sell the property and the lands attached to it. As they did not wish to burden potential buyers with an agreement with a local farmer, they asked Romain not to use the land anymore.

But Romain refused and carried on taking his cattle to the land. A 3-year litigation procedure ensued and eventually the Cour de cassation[1] ruled on 7th March 2012 that because on the first year of the arrangement (in 2004) Ghislaine received an envelope of cash and also accepted hay, meat and vegetables and, despite the fact that it cannot be considered as a regular payment, the arrangement could be deemed a rural lease.

Rural lease (bail rural)

A rural lease is a contract by which one of the parties binds himself to have the other carry out farming activities on agricultural property during at least 9 years, and at a certain price which the latter commits to pay.

Although it is easier to evidence a rural lease with a written agreement, a verbal lease is valid and can be proven by any means.

The landlord cannot refuse the renewal of the lease unless:

- two rents have not be paid,

- the upkeep of the land has not been maintained,

- the farmer has reached retirement age,

- the farmer has sublet the land,

- the landlord wishes to farm the land.

A landlord not renewing the lease must notify the farmer 18 months in advance and usually a Court order will be required to authorise the non-renewal.

The lease does not end upon the farmer’s death but is transferred to the surviving spouse or the children (if they are also farmers).

Finally, in case of sale of the land, the farmer benefits from a pre-emption right.

Preventing the application of a rural lease

Considering the terms and conditions of a rural lease, it is easy to understand why one would prefer to avoid such situation. It is still possible for a farmer to use your land but a few points should be considered.

Firstly, it is important to keep the use of the land free. As the recent Court case shows, even one payment can justify the application of the rural lease.

Secondly, a written agreement signed by the parties outlining the terms and conditions of use and the gratuity of the service is the most suitable evidence to thwart any claim that rural lease rules should be applied.

In any case, it must be pointed out that it is always beneficial to seek independent legal advice to help you through the intricacies of an agreement with your local farmer and prevent potential pitfalls.

[1] The Court of final appeal for civil and criminal matters which rulings can usually be relied upon as case law.

Be very, very careful!

Even if you have a written agreement with regards to loaning land, the farmer does not have to leave. These things can end up in court for years and more often than not the farmer will win because he has the blessing of the very powerful agriculturale union.

We were nearly sold two different properties whose land had been sublet to a neighbouring farmer;

The first property had been in the old boys family for 300yrs, he just had a sign on the gate 'à vendre'. It came with about 5 hectares. Unfortunately being he was 82 he no longer was able or had the inclination to farm, so the farmer next door asked if he could put some of his charolais on the land & he agreed verbally. Henceforth the owner decided to sell 18mnths later. When asked to remove his beasts the farmer refused and although the farmer had nothing in writing he had paid the tax that year on the land. This more or less means he now owns it and does not have to leave.

French farmers can claim subsides for this land, so they can own 20 hectares, borrow 10, and claim for a farm of 30 hectares. So it is not in their interest to give the land back.

The medievale law is still in play= Payment 2 sacs of blé par hectare.

Second property with a french notaire. Smallholding, 9 hectares, sublet to a farmer who was supposedly retiring in the autumn, just had to harvest his crop and the land was ours!!! We were assured the farmer would sign in front of the notaire he was willing to leave. As we are sitting around the table negociating with the owner, the farmer actually turns up, with his grandson. Owner embarrassed draws him aside and starts negociating with him!!It was obvious the grandson wanted the land. Warning lights going off in my head!! My partner and I looked at each other and thought 'laisse tomber'. A few days later I was searching the property shop windows, saw what sounded like the same property only with less land!!, Sure enough it was the same place, only with 1 hectare.

We were told by a french business and land owner to always pay the farmer for any services rendered no matter how small the payment, and if you have somebody use your land, rotate every year who actually does it.

Otherwise when you come to sell you may only own the land on paper!! S

We allow our neighbouring farmer to use our land occasionally, usually in the spring or autumn when there is less nuisance from flies. He is supposed to cut our hedges, but last year did not. We also let him take a hay crop in exchange for straw for chickens. He has to ask us if he can put the cattle on our land. There is no automatic agreement and, in fact, we have refused at times.