Farming tax breaks: true or false

Saturday’s BC Radio 4 Today programme broadcast an interview with Prof Dieter Helm, the economist who chairs the government’s Natural Capital Committee.  Prof Helm made some cogent points about the ad hoc development of various policies for the agricultural industry, calling farmers subsidy junkies along the way and highlighting ‘exemptions’ from tax.  He particularly mentioned Diesel, Rates and Inheritance Tax.  But is Prof Helm right?  Are farmers treated any differently than the rest of us?

Diesel.  Farmers use so-called Red Diesel in their tractors and other land machinery.  It is red because it has been stained to distinguish it from diesel on which petroleum duties are levied (often called DERV – Diesel Oil for Road Vehicles, Diesel Engined Road Vehicles).  Red diesel is also called Gas Oil.  Farmers must use DERV in vehicles which must travel on public roads a lot for example pick-up trucks, or tractors used extensively on the public road.  Other industries that use diesel engines off the public road also use red diesel, notably the construction industry, quarrying and rail transport.  Boats with diesel engines also use red diesel, whether for commercial or leisure operations.  Customs Officers are regularly to be found at agricultural markets and country shows ‘dipping’ vehicle tanks for the tell-tale red stain.  So no difference here from other industries: we all pay more fuel tax on vehicles which go on the public road but don’t have to pay it on off-road vehicles.  VAT is also payable on fuel and in this respect the farming industry is also no different from other industries.  As an aside, landowners who do not farm are generally unable to reclaim VAT.

Rates:  Farming has been exempt from the general property rate since the 1930’s.  The history of agricultural rating goes back further to the 19th century when farm land was generally subject to a reduced rate.  It is however little known that about 11% of the land area of England and Wales is subject to a rate on farmland, in the form of the rates levied in the Internal Drainage Districts.  These are used to pay for the upkeep of local drainage systems which benefit farmland and other properties in the areas concerned.  Like the rest of us, farmers pay Council Tax on their houses.

Inheritance Tax: Farmers may benefit from Agricultural Property Relief on the value of most of the farm when they die.  For an owner-occupier who satisfies the rules the rate of relief is 100% of the agricultural value of the property, which in practice can be less than its full market value.  So a special concession for farming?  Well no not really.  Other businesses (and indeed farming businesses on their other assets) also qualify for Business Property Relief.  This relief is also set at 100% for most cases and is given against the market value of all the assets used in the business.  The idea behind both reliefs is to keep capital in the business.  For sure, agricultural landowners can also claim a variety of agricultural property relief but the radio remarks were about farmers not landowners.

Business Property Relief has some further surprises.  For example many of the shares quoted on the Alternative Investment Market (AIM) also qualify for 100% Business Property Relief.  Furthermore the income from those same shares is taxed at lower rates of Income Tax than earned income including trade profits: the first £5,000 of dividends are free of any Income Tax, basic rate income tax is levied at 7.5% instead of 20%; higher rate at 32.5% instead of 40% and additional at 38.1% compared with 45%.  Grateful thanks indeed for investors who are willing to invest some capital in AIM stocks and wait for the income and gains to roll in (while of course accepting the risks of losses).

To highlight the comparison, consider £5 million invested in a farm, another business or AIM stocks and shares.  In each case the combination of reliefs could reduce the taxable value of this investment for Inheritance Tax purposes to zero.  Along the way the owner of the shares will pay less Income Tax per pound than either the businessman or the farmer, whose tax bill will be broadly similar at similar levels of profit.  The farmer’s return on his £5 million is however, likely to be considerably lower than either the share owner or the businessman, with or without subsidies.

The interview on Radio Four can be heard at this link for the next 29 days.  It starts at 1 hr 10:03 mins and finishes at 1:20:50.   It’s fairly characteristic of the uninformed and poor insight shown into questions of rural, farming and food policy shown by so much of our public media.  John Humphrys and Radio 4 really should be able to do better, even in just 10 minutes.

–ooOoo–

A few copies of Concise Rural Taxation 2016/17 are still available for any reader whose appetite has been whetted for rural taxation.  See the separate tab for order details, or wait until the autumn for the next edition.

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Land Management Today

Masthead design

Land Management TODAY – LMT – is published for the first time today.  The first edition is the work of a group of postgraduate students at Harper Adams University who came together at the end of June to study a module called Land Use and Management.  The first edition contains 28 short articles covering a range of topics.  Download your copy of LMT here: Land Management Today July 2017.

Here is the full contents list:

  1. How farming is set to lose its flavour
  2. Buying into Ecosystem Services – whetting the appetite for diversification
  3. Battery storage, the next big thing for energy production?
  4. Branding: Rural Estates in the head and on the ground
  5. Bringing Back Britain’s Trees
  6. Avoiding Failure with Forwards and Futures .
  7. Smother With Cover: black-grass .
  8. A Tale of Two Leys
  9. Will Dairy Cows Ever See a Human?
  10. Conventional v Organic: Breaking Down Barriers
  11. Diversity & Inclusion; The £24 billion boost
  12. Farm smart in the hills
  13. The Drones are Coming
  14. Finding your perfect partner: Relationships not Rules for land tenure success
  15. State Open for Business
  16. Tax simplification; anything but simple
  17. Spring Budget Basics for Taxation on Rural Estates
  18. Brexit for Breakfast
  19. Agricultural Trade: “Preparing for the Worst, Hoping for the Best”
  20. Soil Health Subsidies
  21. Countryside Stewardship Scheme
  22. Telecommunications-The Implications for Rural Land Owners
  23. Telecoms and the Rise of Statutory Powers
  24. Compulsory Purchase: RICS mandates practice with new PS
  25. Make sure you don’t lose out with Business Rates
  26. No Growth in the Greenbelt
  27. Mid-Tier Countryside Stewardship and Capital Grants – are you missing a trick?
  28. H-App-y Maps
  29. Contributor Profiles

This is the first in what we hope will continue as a series of occasional papers on current topics of concern to land management today.

Agriculture: Five Great Challenges

Jeremy Moody, Secretary and National Adviser to the Central Association of Agricultural Valuers, spoke at Harper Adams University on Thursday 15th October on ‘Agriculture: Five Great Challenges’.

Opening with the observation that necessity is the mother of invention Jeremy commented that farming only adapts when it has to do so.

Jeremy identified his five great challenges as:

  1. Volatility.  Farming’s response so far has been to spread unit costs by taking on more land.  Attempts have been made to spread risks as well, but farming risks are increasingly connected.  Cost leadership is the answer, but ‘costs are like daisies’ – you cut them down and they grow up again.  Some farmers have responded effectively by moving further down the supply chain, for example the potato grower who now supplies chips to take aways.
  2. Output/acre ~ value/acre: We are generally growing low value commodity crops and with this we are seeing an inexorable shift to domination by combinable crops, wheat in particular.  The number of potato growers is predicted to drop from 2,000 to 1,000 over 10 years.  On the other hand, high value output enterprises are starting to appear.  For example vineyards in the south of England, and orchards.
  3. Resources: capital has been readily available at very modest cost, but the rising challenge will be the repayment of the capital itself rather than the servicing charges.  There are 60,000 farms which keep only one person in work.  Employed labour is concentrated in the pig, poultry, horticulture and dairy sectors and many of these employees come from abroad.  There are gaps in the age structure of farmers and it will be a continuing challenge to recruit and retain skilled labour.  Foreign workers are no longer confined to handwork in the fields but are steadily moving up the value chain – without its input we would not be able to sustain much of the higher value cropping leaving farmers with little choice but to revert to monocultural wheat.  Soil health and the resilience of natural capital is also a key part of the resource challenge.  We need to be able to put the right values on the health of soil.  This also draws in the value of water, and abstraction rights for irrigation in particular.
  4. Science and productivity: There has not been much growth in productivity since the 1980’s yet we know that precision farming can increase yields.  There needs to be spare capacity in management in order to make time to consider the possibilities and implement new approaches.  Our increasing reliance on data raises questions about its ownership, for example at the end of tenancies, from one farmer to another, from contractor to farmer.  Actually making effective use of all the data and technology now at the farmer’s disposal is also a large part of this challenge.  Modern machines have enormous technical capacity, but in practice little of what is available might actually be used.
  5. Progression: Flexibility must be the watchword in considering progression.  New entrants need not be young.  Sideways entrants from other sectors can bring just as much and more.  The wonderful smallholding opportunity for the 25 year old can be prison for the same 40 year old.  The industry is dominated by family businesses, 90% of farm employers and 30% can trace their farming origins to before 1900.  Increasingly we may see 90 year olds leaving farms to 70 year olds.

We cannot be the world’s cheapest producers, it is therefore essential that we focus on high input and high output farming with a long term view to ensuring the health of the basic resources on which farming and much else depends.

What do you think of Jeremy’s Five Challenges for Farming?  Here’s the video if you would like to see more:

Source: Agriculture: Five Great Challenges by Jeremy Moody

This video was filmed at Harper Adams University on 15 October 2015 in front of a live audience of students and staff in the Weston Lecture Theatre

£1 million party to celebrate Agincourt: Don’t take the budget too seriously

A few headline points for the rural economy from today’s budget, to add to the mainstream reporting:

  1. Deeds of variation for Inheritance Tax: a consultation is to report by Autumn.  It is therefore important to pursue any deeds of variation which may be needed straightaway, and to review wills to ensure that deeds of variation will not be required.  Their days may now be numbered.
  2. No more tax returns: sounds good, but will digital tax accounts be any better?
  3. Annual Investment Allowance.  It won’t come down from £500,000 to £25,000 after December this year.  We will be told in the Autumn statement what the new rate will be.  This timing is more appropriate, says Osborne.  Two months’ notice?  More appropriate? So much for a long term view on business investment needs.
  4. Compulsory Purchase Reform/Review: consultation now issued, responses by June this year.  First impression: more tinkering, much like the story of piecemeal reforms since the Land Compensation Act 1973.  Key points seem to include earlier payment of compensation (ahead of entry); better compensation; more encouragement to pay ‘over the odds’ to avoid other problems in the acquisition process; reconsideration of the ‘material detriment’ provisions.  There doesn’t seem to be much on blight, either statutory or discretionary and more generally on the interests of property owners and occupiers who lose no land but whose interests are badly affected by public development.
  5. Local Enterprise Partnerships and Forestry: who will LEPS be forced to marry next at the muzzle of a shotgun?  £1 million for for forestry schemes which are brought forward with LEP support – not one to hold your breath for.
  6. Rural broadband (an interesting concept): a universal service obligation of 5 Mbps everywhere may facilitate satellite access.  Details are far from clear, but vital to the successful delivery of this.
  7. Farmers’ profit averaging: the averaging period extended from two years to five year with effect from April 2016.  How will this work?  We don’t know yet: consultation is to follow.
  8. Flood Defence Relief: for expenditure against Income Tax or Corporation Tax – an interesting possibility to consider in the context of the development of ecosystem services.  For example Farmer A will manage his riverside fields to accept surplus water in order to protect Manufacturer B’s factory.  Will B be able to get tax relief for the money he pays to Farmer A for this purpose?
  9. Subletting within residential tenancies: needs thinking through but apparently tenants may be able to override restrictions in their leases.  Form an orderly queue ….
  10. CGT Entrepreneurs’ Relief: various loose ends to be tightened up.  An ideal headline for scaremongering but unlikely to be of concern to ‘genuine’ cases.

How seriously should we take all this?  Paddy Power are offering the following odds on the next government:

  • Labour minority 3/11
  • Conservative minority 7/2
  • Conservative majority 9/2
  • Labour SNP Coalition, and Conservative Lib Dem coalition 5/1

Whoever wins there will be another budget early in the new Parliament.  That’s really the one to watch for rather than today’s dying embers.  Let’s hope the big Agincourt party survives the general election – never mind the charisma of Henry IV’s speech (as Shakespeare would have it anyway) but do remember the skill and discipline of the English and Welsh archers.  Could this be George Osborne’s silent blow against UKIP?

Valuation: Cross-roads or cul-de-sac?

This was the title of my presentation at the RICS Wales Rural Conference held on Tuesday 9 December 2014 in Llandrindod Wells.  Here are the slides.

The contrast between the complexities of valuing woodland for taxation purposes and renewable energy installations is meant to indicate the broad sweep of the challenge facing the modern rural valuer. This is a challenge which is likely to be become broader and more complex with the need to consider the valuation of natural services and capital. Equally the accountability of valuers is only set to grow as the two case updates demonstrate.

Defra: a challenging brief

The Conversation asked me to write an appreciation of Owen Paterson’s tenure as Secretary of State for the Environment. It was published last night under the title, Badgers may cheer Owen Paterson’s exit from Defra, but not everyone feels the same

A white, middle-aged, country man who nevertheless forgot to take his wellies to a flood zone a stone’s throw from one of his infamous badger cull areas, now finds himself culled. Is this how we should remember the Rt Hon Owen Paterson MP, Secretary of State for the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, September 2012-July 2014?

Paterson’s appointment to Defra was popular with farmers and landowners because he was seen as one of their own: MP for that most rural of constituencies North Shropshire, and a leading figure in the European tannery trade. Defra was badly in need of a safe pair of hands after Caroline Spelman’s disastrous attempt to privatise the Forestry Commission. Moving across from the Northern Ireland brief, Paterson was to prove an able choice in this regard.

That is not to say the Defra tractor ploughed a steady course during his tenure. Continue reading “Defra: a challenging brief”

Adding Value to Land: 10 things to think about

Presentation from the RICS National Rural Conference held on 19 June 2014 at the Royal Agricultural University, Cirencester.  Ten ideas which will be important to future success in land management.