The high price of land denies young farmers

Richard Barlow
Richard Barlow
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GROWERS: By Richard Barlow

It is 118 years since my wife’s grandfather came to Double Roof as a keen young farmer at the age of 20. He took on the tenancy of a 120 acre farm, whose landlord was a member of the Duke of Norfolk’s family from Arundel in Sussex.

Frank Dring’s father had made his living dealing in cattle and helped him gain the tenancy, but there after he had to make his own living.

Coming forward to 2014, it is now nearly impossible for keen young farmers to enter the industry.

The cost of renting or purchasing land now has no relationship to its earning capacity.

Land offered out to rent is nearly all let on short term Farm Business Tenancies, and existing farmers are able to offer rents that are far in excess of what the particular parcel of land can support, by spreading the cost across their entire enterprise.

This enables them to spread their fixed costs, particularly machinery depreciation, across a bigger acreage.

Land prices have similarly rocketed – some say 200 per cent in the last six years. Much of this rise has been due to what has become known as the ”Dyson Effect”.

Successful industrialists, with no real interest in farming have been buying as much land as possible to take advantage of Inheritance Taxation rules which allow land to be passed from one generation to the next with little or no taxation. This loophole needs closing so that it only applies to real long term farming businesses. The price of land would then fall back to levels nearer to what it can actually earn.

Locally, several parish councils have been letting land on behalf of both The Crown and Oxbridge Colleges. It started after the First World War with the aim of assisting returning soldiers to find work, and spread to allow parishioners to start farming, often on a part-time basis.

However the agents managing these agreements have forgotten the original principles and forced the current tenants to accept new FBT agreements and nearly doubled the rents.

This is at the same time as all the prices for what can be grown are falling like a stone!

What farming will look like in another 118 years is anybodies guess, but I for one won’t be here to write about it!