What is Agriculture in 2018

The Agriculture Bill is very important draft legislation.  We might expect it to define agriculture itself with a new definition fit for the 21st century and our post-Brexit future.  But the closest it seems to get is clause 13 which tells us that ‘agriculture includes any growing of plants, and any keeping of creatures, for the production of food or drink’.  Agriculture here is however, only defined in the narrow context of “agri-food supply chain(s)”.  Nowhere in the bill does there seem to be a definition of agriculture for the bill’s broader purpose.

Contrast this with the vision of the 1947 Agriculture Act which told us that:

“agriculture” includes horticulture, fruit growing, seed growing, dairy farming and livestock breeding and keeping, the use of land as grazing land, meadow land, osier land, market gardens and nursery grounds, and the use of land for woodlands where that use is ancillary to the farming of land for other agricultural purposes, and “agricultural” shall be construed accordingly.

What is more, the 1947 Act also defined good husbandry and good estate management.  Good husbandry seems as apposite in 2018 as it did in 1947; perhaps the good estate management of the 1940’s is the good land management of the 21st century.

Should the new legislation be defining these matters for the 21st century, and if so what should the definitions be?

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Compulsive viewing for compulsory purchase

A reminder that this Friday will see the next online seminar in our #RuBrief series.  We are covering compulsory purchase in the form of an update for practitioners with some knowledge of the topic.  After a quick reprise of the overall structure of compulsory purchase we shall focus on some of the latest developments, in particular:

  • The detailed changes now enacted through the Neighbourhood Planning Act 2017 and the Housing and Planning Act 2016.  These include:
  • Important new provisions on notices of entry
  • The ability to serve a counter-notice to a notice of entry – this could be invaluable to the property-owner concerned about the continuing security of property awaiting occupation by the acquiring authority
  • A re-coding of the No Scheme Principle.  This consigns several important cases in recent years to history
  • Important changes to compensation where property is held under a 1954 Act business tenancy.  RIP the Upper Tribunal Lands Chamber decision in Bishopsgate Space Management – or is it?  It all depends when ….
  • The updated Crichel Down Rules guidance from central government
  • New forms and guidance on claims
  • The emergence of new protocols for Lands Chamber references
  • HS2’s guidance on Alternative Dispute Resolution and the scope for wider use of ADR when problems arise

For more details follows this link to find out more about our #RuBrief series in general, or this link to go direct to the booking form.

If you are actively involved in compulsory purchase I would also welcome your participation in a continuing survey which can be found at this link.  Initial results were presented at the RICS National Rural Conference in Cirencester last month.  They can be seen on slideshare and below:

Health and Harmony: the future of UK Agriculture

Tonight sees the deadline for responses to the Defra (The UK Dept for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) Command Paper on future policy for Agriculture.

Despite reading the document carefully I can’t clearly see what the farmer or farm of the future might look like, but I do get a sense of a higher and more demanding regulatory baseline, albeit with an aspiration for it to be administered more sensibly.

Productivity seems to be important (or is that profitability?  Should the two be conflated?) but there are no clear statements on the nature of the productivity improvements – labour productivity? Total Factor Productivity? Capital productivity? In terms of output or value added …..

As a strategy document the Command Paper seems to offer no clear analysis or evaluation of the current ‘state of the industry’ (eg SWOT analysis or the like); little real analysis of the trade environment (PESTEL) or how it might develop post Brexit. There is a kind of acknowledgement that UK farming’s USPs (Unique Selling Points) are about quality and welfare, and its potential to provide ‘public goods’ but is a strategy based on these factors supported by evidence from the marketplace?

This all seems to herald a tough regulatory baseline against which farmers increase the use of automation, Artificial Intelligence and local labour resources, acting cooperatively and with access to a range of insurance products to protect against volatility but with fallback protections from the government against extreme events in which the provision of public goods will somehow be recognised – at the lowest level through compliance requirements, but perhaps through government payments of some sort at higher levels.

The role of the cooperatives may extend to landscape and catchment scale land management. The leading models in terms of current enterprises seem to be pigs and poultry. We can expect to see regression in direct support with the bigger providers potentially seeming to have the most to lose – this looks like an interim period after which all producers will see regular direct payments abolished.  But who can provide more in the way of public goods?  Smallholders or large-scale farmers and land managers?

There is little discussion of husbandry itself, or the more general commercialisation of farming and farmers – a good business focus and discipline would go a long way to addressing many of the omissions from the Command Paper.

This also reflects the absence of commitment to commissioning and using business/market/behavioural/economic research into the industry itself – this would give well informed answers to many of the questions raised. The questions themselves look as if they will limit the scope of consultees’ responses eg the consultation questions on p35 where two lists are offered from which the preferred three options have to be selected from each: what if the bottom three on list one were above your top three on list two?

It looks as if we can expect to see an emphasis on off farm measures – bringing in benefits of public education, health provision, infrastructure, border protections, biosecurity/phytosanitary measures, labour schemes, apprenticeships.  There is not a lot of obvious commitment to agricultural R&D as such.

Business, leadership (HRM), husbandry, science and ethics should be at the core of any future strategy for the industry along with the answers to some basic questions about the role of farming, food production and food self-sufficiency in a modern western economy.  Did you find these in the Command Paper?  I don’t think I did.

A new Agriculture Act is promised.  Perhaps like its 1947 predecessor we need new definitions of good husbandry and sound land management (estate management in the 1947 Act).

Trustees and beneficiaries of rural estates: what you need to know and do

Many rural estates are held in trust, generally for reasons of long-term asset protection and security. Trustees carry a heavy burden of responsibility – heavier typically than a company director or shareholder. This online seminar will focus on the legal basis of these responsibilities and the practical measures through which they can be discharged. Essential learning for trustees, beneficiaries and all those – especially from the non-legal professions – who advise them or work for rural and other estates held in trust. The focus is on private family trusts although much of the material is equally relevant to charitable trustees.

This online seminar is the second in our new series for 2018.  Booking and other details can be found here.

Feedback on our first online seminar, on the General Data Protection Regulation, was excellent.  Seventy-two percent of respondents rated it 5/5 and the remaining 28% as four out of five.  Individual comments about the benefits of this approach were:

  • Concise yet informative
  • Simplicity and clarity
  • Clear presentation
  • Clear content, good discussion and engagement with questions
  • Good to follow clear and concise
  • Simple language!
  • Still in office but good interaction with other professionals
  • Ease of obtaining answers to specific questions.
  • Extremely useful overview covering the salient points to note and act on
  • Easy access to ask questions – smallish group
  • Succinct and relevant

Our current programme for the full year can be seen here.

And finally, a question: our first seminar on the General Data Protection Regulation which comes into effect on 25 May 2018 highlighted a lot of issues for rural property professionals and land managers.  Would you like another chance to catch up with this?  If so please let us know below.  If there’s enough interest we’ll see if we can run it again.

Twenty-five year Environment Plan

The Natural Capital Committee has reported its recommendations for a 25-year Environment Plan.  There are five key sections to this important report:

  1. Vision, ambition and goals
  2. Investment needs
  3. Milestones
  4. Governance
  5. Agricultural subsidies post-Brexit

Twelve goals are offered; these include:

  • Breathable air that achieves international standards;
  • Flood protection by various means including natural flood management to protect everybody against a 0.5% probability of flooding:
  • All inland water to be of good status, and coastal waters all to be good for bathing;
  • Greenhouse gas emissions conforming to international targets, including emissions from land-based activities
  • Access to local greenspace and open recreation for all.  The following goals are suggested:
    • One hectare of local nature reserve per 1,000 people;
    • Two hectares of natural greenspace within 300 m of every home;
    • A 20 ha greenspace within 2 km of every home
    • No suggestion is made that the effect of this has been modelled and compared with the current state of provision.

Turning to investments the report proposes 11 items and these include:

  • 250,000 ha of woodland by 2040;
  • All peat to be in favourable condition;
  • Restoration of hydrological cycles including channel restoration and natural flood management measures;
  • New National Parks (no suggestions as to where);
  • Farm funding to be limited to public goods and high welfare standards;
  • Working closely with Local Nature Partnerships;
  • Developer contributions via planning etc to be pooled for natural capital investment;
  • An enhanced capacity for citizen action and involvement;
  • Natural Capital Net Gain principle which would apply to planning, environmental regulation and public procurement wherever possible;
  • Despite being referred to as investments, none of these are funded or compared with the status quo.

Five year milestones are proposed, which need to be supported by a natural capital risk register; accounting measures; cost benefit appraisal approaches and natural capital balance sheets.  Pp 8 and 9 of the report make particular mention of the private sector in this respect but do not expand on this point.

It is proposed that there should be a State of the Environment Report by 2019 and that this should be updated regularly.  For governance the committee propose that the 25 year Environment Plan should be placed on a statutory footing under the authority of a single organisation, with a separate independent body on the lines of the National Audit Office to report regularly on progress.

The final section is concerned with agricultural policy and is perhaps the vaguest part of the report.  Much is made of the examples of market orientated projects like South West Water’s involvement in Upstream Thinking.  Although the report claims that several water companies are involved in such schemes, this is the only example to be cited.  There are indeed other examples and it is a shame that the report does not address more fully the challenges in developing new thinking in this area compared with its more defined focus in earlier sections.

Perhaps on the other hand however, this should be welcomed by those of us who have spent a lifetime involved in day to day management of rural estates and farms as an opportunity still to bring practical common sense and hard-earned local knowledge to further deliberations on these matters.

This provides the perfect opportunity to finish on an event being organised by the Ecosystem Knowledge Network with the Tatton Estate and the Country Land and Business Association on Natural Capital for Rural Estate Professionals at the end of October.  The latest report from the Natural Capital Committee is an important step forward in defining our rural future – do come and join us to see how this might begin to look on the ground.

 

Natural Capital for rural estate professionals: Cheshire, 31 October 2017

This half day workshop is aimed at rural estate owners, managers and their professional advisers. Our purpose is to look at practical ways in which we can work with current policy and technical thinking about natural capital and ecosystem services. We will hear about some tools that are available to help and will look at a practical case study based on a real private commercial rural estate.

You should end the day with an enhanced understanding of the latest developments in this area and some insights that you can start to apply to your own estates and land. You will also have the opportunity to provide feedback on what you have heard and what you think is needed.

This opportunity is the first of its kind to address these issues from the perspective of a private sector landowner and manager. It is important as we see high level advice to government and future public policy beginning to develop around the natural capital concept.

Programme to include:
• Overview of current issues in rural estate management
• An introduction to tools for scoping, mapping and valuing the benefits of natural capital
• Presentations from tool developers Viridian Logic • The Land App • NaturEtrade
• Small group discussion around a practical example (based on the Tatton Estate with the support of Tatton Estate Management – the largest privately-held estate in East Cheshire)

Organised in collaboration with the CLA, Oxford University, Natural Environment Research Council, Charles Cowap and the Ecosystems Knowledge Network.

Members of the RICS, CLA, CAAV, academics and employees of not for profit organisations can benefit from a discounted admission price.

http://ecosystemsknowledge.net/events/tatton

Registration from 10.45 for an 11.15 start; event closes at 16.30 hrs. RICS Structured CPD hours = up to 5 hrs 15 mins plus further reading etc as appropriate.

Event flyer here