Rural surveyors and land managers discussed key issues facing the farming and agriculture sector at the recent RICS Rural Conference 2019 held in Cirencester.
Conference Chair, Gerard Smith, Partner at Lacy Scott & Knight introduced the day where presenters looked at what the future might hold for rural professionals.
Jeremy Moody, Secretary and Adviser at CAAV concluded that with Brexit will come self-government. This, he believes, is an opportunity to find our own agricultural policies despite external pressures, such as more domestic scrutiny if/when we leave the EU as decisions will no longer made in Brussels. Despite concerns around technological change, world markets (the huge buying power of the South East Asian market), public taste in food and production, environmental concerns, climate change mitigation and the movement of labour, which is critical to agriculture, and trading arrangements, he argued, that there is a chance to get things right for those who want to grasp the opportunities. Professionals should take stock and look to outputs other than food. Diversification such as energy and tourism are possible.
Charles Cowap, visiting professor at Harper Adams University, took a wry look at agriculture and Brexit. He talked about the 25-year environment plan, the Agriculture Bill and Health and Harmony.
Is public money for public goods a new mechanism for land management? Again, he suggested that professionals should not wait to be spoon fed the new knowledge and tools they will need. Moving away from government funding, he concluded that rural professionals need to make the markets not just find them. A way to grasp opportunities is to look at private money for natural capital and ecosystems, and to collaborate with big energy users and infrastructure providers and developers.
Philip Wilbourn, CEO of Wilbourn & Co presented on various environmental risks and global valuation including flood risk and the impact of flooding on real estate. Flooding is a ubiquitous issue, which has implications for insurance and resale so members should be aware of the RICS 2018 guidance note.
He reminds us that the design life of the Thames Barrier expires in 2030 and the Environment Agency and the Met office have done some research on a +2.7m sea level rise at which point Westminster could be under water.
Other notes included fly tipping and waste, which remain huge problems for landowners. Did you know about new regulations for the built environment on septic tanks which come into force on 1 January 2020? Make sure that you stay within the law by acting now.
First, Louise Taylor, managing director of Taylor Millbrook, a trained mediator who uses those skills when having potentially difficult conversations with farming families about succession planning and safeguarding the future of farm businesses. She set out how to start the conversation and to encourage families to think about this potentially sad topic in a more positive way. You have to dig deep to find out what the real issues are and why people are nervous about handing over control to a younger generation. It is a particularly important topic for farming families to deal with as it's often about keeping the name on the land.
Next, Duncan Elson head of litigation and dispute resolution at Charles Russell Speechlys looked at the issues involved in succession planning and safeguarding the future of farm businesses. Control, division, reward, family dynamics and structure were the initial thoughts and he looked into estoppel cases that feature promises made – which are becoming more common and more reported in the media.
The drivers for transition are: death, retirement, divorce, incapacity and they involve tax, wills, disputes and decisions. He demonstrated that getting to the bottom of who owns what and the legal definition of partnership is not as clear cut as it may first seem.
Next, Tom Hewitt of Burges Salmon laid out the different types of trust, explained how they are created and what the duties and powers of a trustee before going into detail about the practical issues for rural professionals. In a nutshell, trusts are a way to give assets to future generations while keeping control, flexibility and protecting the assets. He emphasised the importance of choosing your trustees wisely.
David Sedgwick, Partner at Saffery Champness LLP then took on taxation and provided an update against an unsettled political background. From April 2020, he noted that capital gains tax will be due on all residential property sales within 30 days of the completion date.
Budget highlights included an increased annual investment allowance for a 24-month period of £1m for qualifying expenditure, special rate pool changes, the introduction of the structures and building allowance and restrictions from April 2020 with regard to principal private residence relief.
He also covered potential risks to rural business using a traffic light system highlighting perceived high, medium and low risk areas that rural surveyors and advisers should be discussing with clients over the next six–12 months.
Organic livestock farmer Chris Jones gave a fascinating insight into a good news story for farming - reintroducing beavers to Woodland Valley Farm where he farms 170 acres. His initial interest in reintroducing beavers was to find a low-cost way to manage natural flood management. Despite the issues around reintroducing these vegetarian Eurasian beavers (they fell trees, cause local flooding, raid crops and damage flood banks) the pros far outweigh the cons, which can be overcome. Trees can be protected with mesh or paint, local floods avoided with beaver deceivers and crops protected with electric fences.
The opportunities of having the rodents as residents are: flood risk reduction, improved water quality, increased biodiversity, fishing, eco tourism and ELMS. Beavers are a cheap alternative to NFM. Since the beavers' release in June 2017 the hydrograph of water leaving the site is now visibly separating from the hydrograph ow water entering the site and Chris worked with Exeter University on two years' worth of data capture monitoring water flow. His aspirations are for nature's architects to be accepted and adopted legally as a native species, and that they become well established enough to enhance ecosystem services.
Also during the day, Thekla Fellas of Eversheds took on the challenge of updating members on the Electronic Communications Code which came into force on 28 December 2017 and Caroline Bedell of the British Association for Shooting and Conservation outlined the importance of shooting to the rural economy and its environmental benefits. Despite its poor public reputation, she believes its possible to overturn this perception and enhance the environment through sustainable sporting shooting.
She described disruption around the three general licences that Natural England revoked in April 2019 as a result of a legal challenge. These had allowed farmers to shoot 16 species of bird without applying for individual licences. New individual licences were quickly introduced but following outrage from rural organisations, Michael Gove reinstated three new licences that are more workable for most farmers and has called for a consultation this summer. The future for shooting is around sustainability: sustainable ammunition, management of quarry species, wildlife and game meat. In addition, sporting shooting delivers on net gain and reducing wildlife crime.
Journals & Content Editor
Sian edits the Land Journal. She previously worked at RICS on various isurv channels including Planning, APC and Residential as well as professional standards and guidance.