The Changing Farming Landscape
Over the last two months, we have offered a Cumbrian hill farm to let as a complete unit on a ten year Farm Business Tenancy.
This is an attractive family farm, and as we now go through the shortlist and interview process to finally find the successful tenant, it is interesting to reflect that in spite of the changes in support structures and general economic uncertainty, there remains strong demand from a wide range of applicants.
From a Landlord's point of view, the changes in support regime do not seem to have reflected in lower rents. The importance of the condition of the property should not be underestimated and all parties need to be realistic about their repairing responsibilities, liabilities and expectations for the future.
As a Land Agent, who has practiced in the local area for the whole of my working life, it is heartening to see that the enthusiasm to take on farm tenancies is as buoyant as it has always been.
In a mixed farming environment such as ours here in Cumbria, what is interesting is that no two applications or business systems are the same as applicants individually think through their proposals for the farm.
Undoubtably, in pure agricultural terms, small Cumbrian farms are not viable as complete standalone units, but with alternative systems, outside income, diversification and sometimes specialist production, these farms have a long term future.
In the particular case that we are currently dealing with, the farming systems on the shortlist range from entirely traditional beef and sheep production through variations of diversified enterprises into businesses that are built around conservation principles and environmental gain, working on much lower agricultural outputs. All are plausible, but ultimately the Landlord's choice of Tenant will come down to the applicant's enthusiasm, financial backing and the viability of their proposed system.
Unfortunately, there are too few of these units and it is hard to see that supply will ever outstrip demand.
There is no doubt that the appearance and emphasis of our farmed environment as a whole will change. Clearly, there will continue to be a demand for food production and indeed in the future this may become more important than it appears to be today, however the nation's taste and demand for food type are changing and the products that farms and the land as a whole are able to supply are not restricted to purely food production, with environmental benefit becoming increasingly important, particularly on land that is, at best, marginal.
The basis of the relationship between those that own land and those that occupy and live on it is, as always, largely down to trust, and the ability for a sound relationship between all of the parties to be built for the future is more important today than ever.
Change is ongoing and it is something that we all have to embrace.
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