FINAL SAY Fen Tiger Getting it back on track

An uncertain future is likely to follow a challenging farming year, says Fen Tiger


s I pondered my last ever harvest from the tractor seat last week, I found myself contemplating the country’s future – as well as my

own fate after retirement. Things are far from certain. As well as thousands of lives, the coronavirus pandem- ic has cost the country a fortune. And Chan- cellor Rishi Sunak must fend off an economic recession while trying to recover the lost bil- lions spent on combating Covid-19. There are rumours that agricultural in- heritance tax rules could be tightened. I won- der whether I am right to rent out my land – or whether I should sell up completely. Have I reached the correct decision to leave a few acres in the bank? At present, people can invest in agricultur-

al land or certain business assets and their children do not have to pay inheritance tax on their value if they are passed on after death. This was to prevent crippling tax bills from forcing families to sell the entire family busi- ness.

Wealthy ruse? Some people say its just a ruse for wealthy people to avoid tax. I disagree. But there is little doubt that farming families are an easy target for a government strapped for cash. It needs to get revenue from somewhere and

raising income tax would be unpopular. The agricultural relief loophole is some- thing the chancellor is said to be looking at closely. It means purchasing farmland comes with little or no tax liability. Property relief can mean up to 100% off if the deceased has an interest in an agricultural business or an unlisted company. Well, it’s nice to know that my children

should have minimal tax to pay should I kick the bucket early. But the problem may have to be addressed prior to my demise because their needs do not include several acres of heavy blackgrass infested land.

Harvest yields On a somewhat brighter note, winter barley yields locally are cause for a small celebra- tion. Ignoring the inflated results trumpet- ed by several neighbours, I always seek the truth from a certain nearby farmer who re- fuses to overstate his yields. Yields of 7.5t/ha are pleasing enough for winter barley crop – especially when it is dry and in the barn. Considering the wet autumn and dry spring these are good results. The same can’t be said for oilseed rape. Once again, yields are down. No farmers I


Some say it is a ruse for wealthy people to avoid tax

know are going to keep growing the crop – or indeed start growing it for the first time. Sec- ond wheat is similar, with yields about 20% down on last year,some even worse. It has been a mixed year for bushel weights.

So far, anyway. No doubt a fuller story will emerge later once everything is in the barn.

Combine costs

It hasn’t been an easy harvest for other rea- sons too. There have been tales of new com- bine harvesters not arriving in time – despite orders being taken late last year. Fortunate- ly, the machines they were due to replace had been retained. The reason for the delay? Coronavirus

again, of course, which caused factory clo- sures and transportation difficulties across the water. With my mind on retirement, I cannot help but wonder whether it is sensi- ble to spend the best part of £500,000 on a new combine. That’s a lot of expensive depreciating met- al standing for months on end in an empty shed. And with so many cheaper machines out there capable of doing the same job at a fraction of the cost, I would save my money. Or use a contractor. I have always wondered whether the best

way forward is outright ownership, leasing or hiring in a combine with a neighbour. Having decided to retire, I should be winding down rather than doing these calculations. But old habits die hard. And I will contin-

ue to write my column – for the time being at least. There’s life in Fen Tiger yet. And I can still comment from the outside looking in. For now, I’m hoping the coming season is less challenging that the one we’ve just had.

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