Stepping into 2020 with 20/20 Vision
With the UK struggling under the continued economic uncertainty of a prolonged and drawn-out BREXIT and farming communities still bearing the consequences of the adverse weather conditions earlier in the year, we must ask the obvious question, has it been all doom and gloom?
Thomas Armstrong, Assistant Director and Chartered Surveyor, of H&H Land & Estates, one of the North's leading Chartered Surveyors, Agricultural Land Agents and Valuers across the North of England and Southern Scotland, reflects on a year of highs and lows across the industry:
“Earlier in the year, we launched our new united brand identity of H&H Land & Estates incorporating the former H&H Land and Property, H&H King, Michael CL Hodgson, and Smeatons Estate Agency. This resulted in merging the property and estate agency teams into one multi-disciplinary advisory team.
“With regards to the sale of land, rural and agricultural property throughout 2019, there has been a clear pattern forming with fewer properties coming to the market throughout all areas. This has been attributed largely to buyers and sellers’ wariness of the potential impacts of BREXIT and the uncertain future. Encouragingly interest rates have remained low but buyers are not being tempted due to the potential risks involved in buying in an uncertain market.
“With fewer purchasers and sellers willing to take the risk of buying or selling in the market, those that have been marketed have in the North East received good levels of interest and have sold quickly. For example, Gibshiel Farm in Northumberland, a very well-presented upland smallholding, received high levels of interest and from the point at which the property was put on the market, the sale completed within a swift four months.
“In Cumbria, there has also been a shortage of farmland coming to the market, down 30 – 40% on last year with demand outstripping supply. Interestingly, it has been noted that on average, farms are turning over only once in every 200 years!
“Again, Cumbrian farms that have come to the market have sold keenly and this market has stayed relatively buoyant. As we head towards 2020 the average land prices have now started to plateau. As always, location and access are crucial, and we are seeing significant differences in sale prices as a result of this.
“One area that has remained a consistent performer and highly sought after is amenity land. At our Kendal auction in September, with a packed auction room, one parcel of amenity land located off Holbeck Lane in Troutbeck with a guide price of £20 - £25,000, saw the gavel go down at £75,000, three times over its estimate and a staggering £38,860 per acre.
“A less than positive effect on the agricultural community, has been the fact that is has been the poor year for beef and sheep farmers, and the recent rise in lamb prices can only be described as “a little too late for this year but good news moving into 2020.”
“In terms of the support which has been and is currently available to agricultural businesses it is a case of use it or lose it. As such it is difficult to understand why there has been a general lack of uptake in the Countryside Stewardship Scheme, which opened up to farmers, foresters and land managers back in February.
This scheme offers a massive opportunity for extra support in the areas of conserving wildlife habitats, flood risk management, woodland creation and management, reducing water pollution from agriculture, preserving the character and historical features of the countryside and encouraging educational access. The current grants are easy to obtain and we encourage any eligible business to go on the https://www.gov.uk/countryside-stewardship-grants website to find out more as the funding really should be taken advantage of.
“Another grant that is available is the Hedgerows & Boundaries Grant, these are capital grants and another area that is extremely accessible and obtainable with £11.60 per metre available to eligible businesses wanting to replace or extend existing hedgerows.
“Areas to watch out for post-Brexit and moving into 2020, will be the Rural Growth Programme - £35 million of EU funding available for diversification projects for adding value and tourism. The scheme, run by the Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE), aims to create diversifications that boost rural jobs, increase tourism and encourage business growth. The deadline for expressions of interest is 16 February 2020.
“Post-EU, everyone is asking the question, what does the future hold? The Basic Payment Scheme is on its way out and that is, of course, a threat, but at the same time, there will be something to replace it, which will be more environmental and public-goods focused, which may be more than a payment per area.
“In the future, conservation will be key, and farmers are being looked upon, whatever types of farms they manage, as custodians of the countryside, and nurturing the habitats nature provides, for the whole country. Farmers must maximise the opportunities for the younger generation on the farm, identifying diversification prospects for the current markets, and look to see what you can do to spread risk and tap into different markets.”
“The continued nervousness around BREXIT and the unknown effects of its outcomes remains, however, there really are options out there and my advice is that you keep your ear to the ground for the opportunities, use the winter months to plan ahead and where necessary, to diversify and protect your business so that it is fit for the future.”