As the Prime Minister prepares to trigger Article 50, Alex Black reports from a seminar organised to answer the most pressing questions facing the UK’s farmers and landowners
The panel of NFU vice president Guy Smith, Julie Robinson, partner at Roythornes solicitors, Duncan and Topliss deputy managing director Ian Phillips, Brown and Co senior associate James Black and Lloyds Bank area director agriculture answered farmers’ questions on Brexit.
Ms Robinson said the day after Brexit would be ‘as you were’.
She said in many areas, the UK had led the way in the legislation, such as employment law and water licences, and it ‘would be a very brave Government’ which tried to change animal welfare rules.
“We are dealing with a Government which is being lobbied from every side,” she said.
Mr Black said he believed farms would get bigger if subsidies were removed.
Mr Phillips added he had seen a huge change from the 1980s when the general opinion was 80 hectares (250 acres) would ‘service’ one man.
He said farmers needed to look into economies of scale.
“You cannot have everything which is state-of the-art with 500 acres,” he said.
But Michael Summers, area director of agriculture at Lloyds Bank, challenged the assumption bigger meant more efficient.
“There is no correlation of scale and efficiency,” he said.
“In many cases, tenant farms are some of the most efficient. Why? They have not got the comfort of asset base.”
Ms Robinson said she had already seen people opting for shorter contracts due to Brexit with others including a call for a rent review if subsidies should fall.
She said: “Do not sign a 10-year agreement because you get on with the guy next door.”
Mr Black added putting in these kind of clauses was the best option for both tenants and landlords.
Mr Black advised farmers to spread the risk across as many areas as possible. He said many farmers were moving into poultry.
“The capital requirement is quite high but the rates of return are good,” he said.
He said pigs could be another option for those who have unused buildings and labour available.
Mr Summers said farmers should be looking at forward contracts and fixed rates.
He said subsidies had allowed farmers to be ‘laissez-faire’ about risk as it had provided a ‘buffer’ against farming losses.
“If the buffer disappears, you may be in a position where you cannot survive,” he said.
Ms Robinson said the one thing people needed to do was make sure they had a plan for succession.
“We have had a bit of a spike in people coming to us,” she said.
She advised people not to put off changes which needed to happen and not enter long-term agreements without advice.
Mr Phillips said farmers needed to make sure they were aware of tax rules and changes.
“HMRC will give you nothing. They are out for one thing only,” he said.
The Brexit and You seminar, held at Newark Showground, was hosted by chartered accountants Duncan and Toplis, in association with Roythornes Solicitors, Brown and Co and Lloyds Bank.