Tenant farmer
A tenant farmer is one who resides on and farms land owned by a landlord
A landlord is the owner of a house, apartment, condominium, or real estate which is rented or leased to an individual or business, who is called a tenant . When a juristic person is in this position, the term landlord is used. Other terms include lessor and owner...

. Tenant farming is an agricultural production system in which landowners contribute their land and often a measure of operating capital and management; while tenant farmers contribute their labor along with at times varying amounts of capital and management. Depending on the contract, tenants can make payments to the owner either of a fixed portion of the product, in cash or in a combination. The rights the tenant has over the land, the form, and measure of the payment varies across systems (geographically and chronologically). In some systems, the tenant could be evicted at whim (tenancy at will); in others, the landowner and tenant sign a contract for a fixed number of years (tenancy for years or indenture
Indentured servant
Indentured servitude refers to the historical practice of contracting to work for a fixed period of time, typically three to seven years, in exchange for transportation, food, clothing, lodging and other necessities during the term of indenture. Usually the father made the arrangements and signed...

). In most developed countries
Developed country
A developed country is a country that has a high level of development according to some criteria. Which criteria, and which countries are classified as being developed, is a contentious issue...

 today, at least some restrictions are placed on the rights of landlords to evict tenants under normal circumstances.

England and Wales

Historically, rural society utilised a three tier structure of landowners (nobility
Nobility is a social class which possesses more acknowledged privileges or eminence than members of most other classes in a society, membership therein typically being hereditary. The privileges associated with nobility may constitute substantial advantages over or relative to non-nobles, or may be...

, gentry
Gentry denotes "well-born and well-bred people" of high social class, especially in the past....

, yeomanry), tenant farmers, and farmworker
A farmworker is a person hired to work in the agricultural industry. This includes work on farms of all sizes, from small, family-run businesses to large industrial agriculture operations...

s. Originally, tenant farmers were known as peasants. If they were bonded to the land, they were also villeins, but otherwise they were free tenants. Many tenant farmers were affluent and socially well connected, and employed a substantial number of labourers and managing more than one farm, land which could either be owned in perpetuity or rotated by the owners. Cottiers (cottagers) held much less land.

By the 19th century about 90% of land area and holdings were tenanted but these figures have declined markedly since World War II, to around 60% in 1950 and only 35% of land area in 1994. High rates of inheritance taxes in the postwar period led to the breakup or reduction of many large estates, allowing many tenants to buy their holdings at favourable tenanted prices.

The landmark 1948 Act was enacted at a time when war-time food rationing was still in force and sought to encourage long term investment by tenants by granting them lifetime security of tenure. Under the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 security was extended to spouses and relatives of tenants for two successions, providing that they had been earning the majority of their income from the holding for five years. Succession rights were however withdrawn for new tenancies in 1984 and this was consolidated in the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986. These two statutes also laid down rules for the determination of rents by the arbitration process. The 1986 statute covered tenancies over agricultural land where the land was used for a trade or business and the definition of "agriculture" in section 96(1) was wide enough to include various uses that in themselves were not agricultural but were deemed so if ancillary to agriculture (e.g. woodlands). The essence of the code was to establish complex constraints on the landlord's ability to give notice to quit, whilst also converting fixed term tenancies into yearly tenancies at the conclusion of the fixed term. In addition, there was a uniform rent ascertainment scheme contained in section 12.

It became difficult to obtain new tenancies as a result of landlords' reluctance to have a tenant protected by the 1986 Act and in 1995 the government of the day, with the support of industry organisations, enacted a new market-oriented code in the form of the Agricultural Tenancies Act 1995. The protection of the 1986 Act remains in respect of tenancies created prior to the existence of the 1995 Act, and for those tenancies falling within section 4 of the 1995 Act. For all other tenancies granted on or after 1 September 1995 their regulation is within the 1995 Act framework.

That Act was altered with effect from 18 October 2006 by the Regulatory Reform (Agricultural Tenancies)(England and Wales) Order 2006 SI 2006/2805, which also contains changes to the 1986 Act. Tenancies granted after 18 October 2006 over agricultural land used for a trade or business will fall within the limited protection of the 1995 Act so as to enjoy (provided the term is more than two years in length or there is a yearly tenancy) a mandatory minimum twelve months written notice to quit, including in respect of fixed terms. There is for all tenancies within the scope of the Act a mandatory tenants' right to remove fixtures and buildings (section 8) together with compensation for improvements (Part III). The rent review provisions in Part II may be the subject of choice to a much greater extent than previously. Disputes under the Act are usually, by the terms of Part IV, the subject of statutory arbitration controlled by the framework of the Arbitration Act 1996.

The current regime for regulating tenancies, commonly known as the Farm Business Tenancy, offers a fixed term between landlord and tenant. In the cycle of animal husbandry and land use and improvement, the long term effect on the landscape of Britain is not yet proven. It was predicted by landowners and other industry spokesmen that the 1995 Act would create opportunities for new tenants by allowing large areas of new lettings but this has not happened in practice as most landowners have continued to favour share farming or management agreements over formal tenancies and the majority of new lettings under the Act have been to existing farmers, often owner-occupier
An owner-occupier is a person who lives in and owns the same home. It is a type of housing tenure. The home of the owner-occupier may be, for example, a house, apartment, condominium, or a housing cooperative...

s taking on extra land at significantly higher rents than could be afforded by a traditional tenant.


Tenant farming immigrants came to Canada not just from the British Isles but also the United States of America.


Until about 1900, the majority of Ireland was held by landlords, as much as 97% in 1870, and rented out to tenant farmers who had to pay rent to landlords and taxes to the Church and State. The majority of the people had no access to land. 1.5% of the population owned 33.7% of the nation, and 50% of the country was in the hands of only 750 families. Absenteeism
Absentee landlord
Absentee landlord is an economic term for a person who owns and rents out a profit-earning property, but does not live within the property's local economic region. This practice is problematic for that region because absentee landlords drain local wealth into their home country, particularly that...

 was common and detrimental to the country's progress. Tenants often sub-rented small plots on a yearly basis from local farmers paying for them by labour service in a system known as conacre
Conacre , in Ireland, is a system of letting land, formerly in small patches or strips, and usually for tillage ....

 most without any lease or land rights. Irish smallholders were indistinguishable from the cottiers of England.

The abuse of tenant farmers led to widespread emigration to the United States and was a key factor within the Home Rule Movement
Home Rule Movement
The All India Home Rule League was a national political organization founded in 1916 to lead the national demand for self-government, termed Home Rule, and to obtain the status of a Dominion within the British Empire as enjoyed by Australia, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand and Newfoundland at the...

. They also underlines a deterioration in Protestant-Catholic relationships although there were notable elements of cooperation in reform attempts such as the Tenant Right League
Tenant Right League
The Tenant Right League, established in 1850, was an organisation which aimed to secure reforms in the Irish land system. Formed by Charles Gavan Duffy and Frederick Lucas , it united for a time Protestant and Catholic tenants, Duffy calling his movement The League of North and South.The political...

 of the 1850s. Following the Potato Famine tenant farmers were the largest class of people. Discontent led to the Land War
Land War
The Land War in Irish history was a period of agrarian agitation in rural Ireland in the 1870s, 1880s and 1890s. The agitation was led by the Irish National Land League and was dedicated to bettering the position of tenant farmers and ultimately to a redistribution of land to tenants from...

 of the 1870s onwards, the Irish Land Acts
Irish Land Acts
The Land Acts were a series of measures to deal with the question of peasant proprietorship of land in Ireland in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Five such acts were introduced by the government of the United Kingdom between 1870 and 1909...

 of 1870, the founding of the Land League
Irish National Land League
The Irish Land League was an Irish political organization of the late 19th century which sought to help poor tenant farmers. Its primary aim was to abolish landlordism in Ireland and enable tenant farmers to own the land they worked on...

 1879 to establish fair rents and the fixity of tenures. The movement played a key element in the unification of country and urban classes and the creation of a national identity not existing before.

The Land Act of 1870 stands out at the first attempt to resolve problems of tenants rights in Ireland and the 1881 Act went even further to inspire campaigners even in Wales. The Irish Land (Purchase) Act 1885 followed, finally the great break through after the successful 1902 Land Conference
Land Conference
The Land Conference was a successful conciliatory negotiation held in the Mansion House in Dublin, Ireland between 20 December 1902 and 4 January 1903. In a short period it produced a unanimously agreed report recommending an amiable solution to the long waged land war between tenant farmers and...

, the enactment of the Wyndham Land (Purchase) Act 1903 whereby the state financed tenants to completely buy out their landlords. Under the Act of 1903, and the consequential Act of 1909, the national situation was completely transformed. When in March 1920, the Irish Estate Commission reviewed the development since 1903 under these Acts, they estimated that 83 million sterling had been advanced for 9 million acres (36,421.7 km²) transferred, whilst a further 2 million acres (8,093.7 km²) were pending costing 24 million sterling. By 1914, 75% of occupiers were buying out their landlords, mostly under the two Acts. In all, under the pre-UK Land Acts over 316,000 tenants purchased their holdings amounting to 11500000 acres (46,538.9 km²) out of a total of 20 million in the country.

On the formation of the Irish Free State
Irish Free State
The Irish Free State was the state established as a Dominion on 6 December 1922 under the Anglo-Irish Treaty, signed by the British government and Irish representatives exactly twelve months beforehand...

 in 1922, the Irish Land Commission
Irish Land Commission
The Irish Land Commission was created in 1881 as a rent fixing commission by the Land Law Act 1881, also known as the second Irish Land Act...

 was reconstituted by the Land Law (Commission) Act, 1923. The Commission had acquired and supervised the transfer of up to 13 million acres (52,609.2 km²) of farmland between 1885 and 1920 where the freehold was assigned under mortgage to tenant farmers and farm workers. The focus had been on the compulsory purchase of untenanted estates so that they could be divided into smaller units for local families. In 1983, the Commission ceased acquiring land; this signified the start of the end of the commission's reform of Irish land ownership, though freehold transfers of farmland still had to be signed off by the Commission into the 1990s. The commission was dissolved in March 1999.


In Japan, landowners turned over their land to families of tenant farmers to manage. During the Meiji
Meiji may refer to:* Meiji Restoration, the revolution that ushered in the Meiji period* Meiji period - the period in Japanese history when the Meiji Emperor reigned...

 period, Japanese tenant farmers were traditionally cultivators rather than capitalistic or entrepreneurial venture by nature, paid in kind for their labors. Approximately 30% of land was held by tenants. Many aspects of Tokugawa
Tokugawa shogunate
The Tokugawa shogunate, also known as the and the , was a feudal regime of Japan established by Tokugawa Ieyasu and ruled by the shoguns of the Tokugawa family. This period is known as the Edo period and gets its name from the capital city, Edo, which is now called Tokyo, after the name was...

 feudalism continued. After WWII, the Farm Land Reform Law of 1946 banned absentee landlordism, re-distributing land and permitted tenants to buy. By the 1950s, it virtually eliminated the landlord tenant relationship.


Historically, despite being part of the Scandinavian unions, the countries of Denmark, Sweden and Norway had differing approaches to land tenure.


Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

 has its own independent legal system
Scots law
Scots law is the legal system of Scotland. It is considered a hybrid or mixed legal system as it traces its roots to a number of different historical sources. With English law and Northern Irish law it forms the legal system of the United Kingdom; it shares with the two other systems some...

 and the legislation there differs from that of England and Wales. Neither the AHA 1986 nor the ATA 1995 apply in Scotland. The relevant legislation for Scotland is rather the Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Act 1991 and the Agriculture (Scotland) Act 1948.

United States

Tenant farming has been important in the U.S.A. from the 1870s to the present. Tenants typically bring their own tools and animals. It is distinguished from both being a "hired hand" and being a sharecropper.

A hired hand is an agricultural employee even though he or she may live on the premises and exercise a considerable amount of control over the agricultural work, such as a foreman. A sharecropper
Sharecropping is a system of agriculture in which a landowner allows a tenant to use the land in return for a share of the crop produced on the land . This should not be confused with a crop fixed rent contract, in which a landowner allows a tenant to use the land in return for a fixed amount of...

 is a farm tenant who pays rent with a portion (often half) of the crop he raises and who brings little to the operation besides his family labor; the landlord usually furnishing working stock, tools, fertilizer, housing, fuel, and seed, and often providing regular advice and oversight.

Tenant farming was historically a step on the "agricultural ladder" from hired hand or sharecropper taken by young farmers as they accumulated enough experience and capital to buy land (or buy out their siblings when a farm was inherited.) In the 1920, many came from Japan to the West Coast states.

See also

  • Landlord Harassment
    Landlord Harassment
    Landlord harassment is the willing creation, by a landlord or his agents, of conditions that are uncomfortable for one or more tenants in order to induce willing abandonment of a rental contract. Such a strategy is often sought because it avoids costly legal expenses and potential problems with...

  • Serfdom
    Serfdom is the status of peasants under feudalism, specifically relating to Manorialism. It was a condition of bondage or modified slavery which developed primarily during the High Middle Ages in Europe and lasted to the mid-19th century...

  • Sharecropping
    Sharecropping is a system of agriculture in which a landowner allows a tenant to use the land in return for a share of the crop produced on the land . This should not be confused with a crop fixed rent contract, in which a landowner allows a tenant to use the land in return for a fixed amount of...

  • Metayage
    The Metayage system is the cultivation of land for a proprietor by one who receives a proportion of the produce, as a kind of sharecropping.-Origin and function:...

     system of sharecropping
  • Plain Folk of the Old South
    Plain Folk of the Old South
    The Plain Folk of the Old South refers to the middling class of white farmers in the Southern United States before the Civil War, located between the rich planters and the poor whites. At the time they were often called "yeomen". They owned land and had no slaves or only a few. Most of them were...

    , U.S. before 1860

British Isles

  • Solow, Barbara. The Land Question and the Irish Economy, 1870-1903 (1972)
  • Taylor, Henry C. "Food and Farm Land in Britain," Land Economics, Vol. 31, No. 1 (Feb., 1955), pp. 24–34 in JSTOR
  • Winstanley, Michael J. Ireland and the land question 1800-1922
  • FA Buttress. Agricultural periodicals of the British Isles, 1681–1900, and their location, 1950. University of Cambridge.
  • Nicholls Mark. A history of the modern British Isles, 1529-1603: the two kingdoms. 1999


  • Atack, Jeremy. "The Agricultural Ladder Revisited: A New Look at an Old Question with Some Data for 1860," Agricultural History Vol. 63, No. 1 (Winter, 1989) , pp. 1-25 in JSTOR
  • Atack, Jeremy. "Tenants and Yeomen in the Nineteenth Century," Agricultural History, Vol. 62, No. 3, (Summer, 1988), pp. 6-32 in JSTOR
  • Grubbs, Donald H. Cry from the Cotton: The Southern Tenant Farmer's Union and the New Deal (1971)
  • Hurt, R. Douglas. African American Life in the Rural South, 1900-1950 (2003)
  • Caleb Sothworth. "Aid to Sharecroppers: How Agrarian Class Structure and Tenant-Farmer Politics Influenced Federal Relief in the South, 1933-1935," Social Science History, Vol. 26, No. 1 (Spring, 2002), pp. 33–70
  • Turner, Howard A. "Farm Tenancy Distribution and Trends in the United States," Law and Contemporary Problems, Vol. 4, No. 4, Farm Tenancy (Oct., 1937), pp. 424–433 in JSTOR
  • Virts, Nancy. "The Efficiency of Southern Tenant Plantations, 1900-1945," Journal of Economic History, Vol. 51, No. 2 (Jun., 1991), pp. 385–395 in JSTOR


  • Allen, D. W and D. Lueck. "Contract Choice in Modern Agriculture: Cash Rent versus Cropshare," Journal of Law and Economics, (1992) v. 35, pp. 397–426.
  • Liebowitz, Jonathan J. "Tenants, Sharecroppers, and the French Agricultural Depression of the Late Nineteenth Century," Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Vol. 19, No. 3 (Winter, 1989), pp. 429–445 in JSTOR
  • Matsuoka, K. "The Peasant Worker in Japan," Pacific Affairs, Vol. 3, No. 12 (Dec., 1930), pp. 1109–1117 in JSTOR
  • Udo, R.K. "The Migrant Tenant Farmer of Eastern Nigeria," Africa: Journal of the International African Institute, Vol. 34, No. 4 (Oct., 1964), pp. 326–339 in JSTOR
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