Brockthorpe Consultancy Ltd | THE 2018 NORTHERN FARMING CONFERENCE
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Robbie Moore was a guest speaker at this year’s Northern Farming Conference held at Hexham Auction Mart. Speaking about his Nuffield Farming Scholarship, Robbie discussed the negative implications of short term thinking when it comes to agri landowner and occupier agreements, and referenced how important it is for a landowner and occupier to have a long term vision, with sound objectives and common goals, especially when considering soil health, business planning and the next generation.

Robbie shared the morning session with Neil Wilson Head of Agriculture from HSBC, Tom Hind Chief Strategy Officer at AHDB and Robert Neill, last year’s FW Farmer of the Year. The conference was chaired by Andrew Robinson from Armstrong Watson.

With his Nuffield report now published, Robbie’s Executive Summary is detailed below;

Land occupation agreements are increasingly becoming short term. The average length of a Farm Business Tenancy is just over 3 years for bare land. Our most valuable asset, the land and soils which we rely upon to supply food is progressively coming under strain.

The ‘rape and pillage’ scenario has long been associated with short term tenancies. High rents are paid and no, or little inputs are applied resulting in soil degradation and weed infestation. Too often we see insignificant investment in resources combined with the maximum extraction of the ‘goodness’ of the land by the occupier. Landowners focus too heavily on short term financial gain resulting in the long term wellbeing of their underlying asset suffering. New entrants or the next generation find it more difficult to get their ‘foot on the ladder’ when short term agreements are offered.

The primary goal of my report is to address such weaknesses, and in doing so, understand whether it is the length of the agreement that is the root cause or are there other influencing factors, such as tax, capital, our culture and our outlook.  As a practicing rural surveyor, I was also keen to explore what role my profession has in influencing the structural makeup of land tenure agreements.

I visited France and The Netherlands, where protective tenancy legislation strictly governs the operation of land tenure arrangements; Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina to understand their relationship with soil and their strong devotion to improving its health and New Zealand, where a range of land tenure models are adopted. I also had a desire to understand the Maori culture, and their long term approach linking people, relationships and land.

Within all countries, I found strong concerns surrounding short term occupation. I sought potential mechanisms to address this but concluded that the agreements duration in itself, isn’t the issue. Short term thinking in farming businesses is the real sin, especially when there is a lack of open discussion between the landowner and occupier around their own objectives.

The farming sector, and professional advisers in particular, need to broaden their outlook and be more imaginative when it comes to land tenure options. The whole spectrum of land partnership models should be considered and in doing so, both the landowner and occupier should have aligned objectives, common goals and a clear vision. The removal of unnecessary regulatory barriers and changes to certain capital taxation reliefs would also help drive longer term planning.

A good strong relationship between a landowner and occupier based on trust, accountability and commitment is absolutely key. Without doubt, both parties should give due thought and consideration to their triple bottom line and address it wholeheartedly if they, their business and their assets are to be considered truly sustainable.

If you would like a full copy of Robbie’s Nuffield report, please send Robbie an e-mail [email protected], or give him a call 0789 109 7874

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