Q&A: from succession to mega-farms, here’s what farmers are asking us

The Thrings Agriculture team recently hosted a Q&A to answer some of your most pressing questions.

This year, our agricultural seminar covered a wide range of topics, from planning development rights to tenancies, diversification and succession. With the sector facing a lot of uncertainty due to future trade deals, changing regulations and emerging technologies, farmers and landowners have a lot of questions.

In case you missed our latest webinar, here are some of the questions we were asked.

Succession planning: what degree of promise do you need from the current owner to be sufficiently confident the farm will pass to you?

According to Russell Reeves:

“This is all about evidence. The best-case scenario is that you have a promise in writing, but this is not typically what happens. Rather, these promises tend to happen over a farm gate or somewhere out on the land. You may also have a promise that was made in front of witnesses. I’ve had many cases where witnesses to a promise made 20 or 30 years ago are called. But it also does not have to be a promise, it can take the form of an assurance or a mere representation. It has to be more than an expectation on the part of the claimant, but the fact is that it is all open to interpretation on a case-by-case basis. It is important to make sure you have some form of evidence.”

Are we going to see the rise of the mega-farm in the next few years?

Duncan Sigournay said:

“There were some attempts a few years ago to get some of the mega-dairies in place, and there was a lot of opposition to that. I do think that to some extent, the environmental tide is turning against these kinds of operations. But I also think that the move towards larger farms is inevitable, which doesn’t necessarily mean the end of small farms. The issue is still up in the air because although there are a number of arguments for mega-farms, they don’t tend to resonate with the public. There needs to be a place for a range of farms in the industry, building on this country’s strengths of having a wide spectrum of farms and food producers.”

Mark Charter added:

“With such a wide range of diversification options open to farmers, and lots of new markets likely to open up in the near future (such as offset, carbon capture and nitrate neutrality to name a few), I think we are seeing an emerging sector for natural capital goods and all that goes with it. These developments will define the future shape of the agricultural industry and the kinds of businesses that are feasible within it.”

Is the future of farming in the UK all doom and gloom?

Duncan Sigournay said:

“There is a lot of uncertainty right now, but with that also comes some opportunities. With regards to the place of small and family farms, I think we are moving away from the belief that there is an inherent right to farm. It’s all about knowing your market. If you are trying to compete with mega-farms on volume, then you are going to face significant challenges. On the other hand, if you can find a market that works for you, then there is no reason you can’t thrive. You will have to be prepared to do things a little differently and stay on top of technological changes though.”

Committed to the agricultural sector

As one of the UK’s largest and most experienced teams of agricultural lawyers, we are always here to help our clients deal with a changing commercial and regulatory landscape, and to make the best of the new opportunities available.

If you’d like a full re-cap of our 2020 agricultural seminar and insights, you can watch the full event here, or read the summary articles right here on our blog.