Sunday, May 23, 2010

Investors pile into farmland

As Britain's Con-Lib government threatens a big hike in capital gains tax, investors are piling into farms despite the fact that a typical yield on capital in the sector is only 2 per cent (although that is more than you would receive from many deposit accounts).

According to Strutt and Parker farmland in the UK has risen in price from an average of £5,260 per acre at the beginning of the year to £6,233 this month, an increase of 18 per cent. Prices have already topped those achieved when the market peak in 2006, but annual growth of about 5 to 6 per cent until 2015 is still expected.

Farmland has always been seen as a safe haven at a time of economic volatility, a kind of gold with cashflow. There are also capital gains and tax benefits. Agricultural property relief means that all of the land, as well as a portion of the farmhouse, is exempt from inheritance tax after two years, provided the owner farms the land or has a farming contract in place based on shared profit. You can also offset farm losses against other income.

The problem is that it is difficult to get a foothold in farming unless you inherit or become a farm manager. Tenancies don't come up that often and local authority estates which were a traditional entry route are being sold off. In any case, many of these units were not viable without an off farm income, although that is also true of many owned and tenanted farms.

The farm population is an ageing one and the industry needs younger people to come in other than through the inheritance route, valuable though that is in providing a sense of 'trusteeship' of the land. When my nephew takes over from his dad, he will be the eighth generation to farm in a very beautiful part of Cymru, although three formerly separate farms have now been combined into one big property.

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