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Greene & Greene is a long established firm of solicitors based in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk. Our lawyers advise individuals and businesses based all over the UK.

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Entries in Agriculture & Farming (9)

Monday
Jul242017

Diversification within Farming

The word "diversification" has been employed more and more frequently in recent years whilst discussing the future of the agricultural sector, but what exactly do people mean? Rather than crop diversification rules, the industry’s focus has been on branching out from traditional farming activities to add new sources of income.

Whilst the full implications of the EU referendum result in June 2016 are yet to be revealed, there is no doubt that the coming years will be testing for many of the region's farmers. Diversification could hold the key to enjoying a thriving business for those with the assets and ambition to make it happen. On the face of it, the statistics associated with leaving the EU make for grim reading for our farmers.  In 2014, subsidies paid out from the EU under the common agricultural policy (CAP) accounted for 55% of total UK farmers’ income, according to DEFRA.  Furthermore, in 2013 some 62% of agricultural exports from the UK were sold to other EU member states. The UK Government has indicated that today's level of subsidies will be maintained until 2020, but with demands for a bigger slice of public funds from many quarters, there is little expectation that the support for farmers will be increased or indeed maintained at the current levels into the next decade. It is a sobering fact that a large number of the small to medium-sized farms in the UK rely on the subsidies under the CAP to break even, let alone make a profit.  

These stark figures are no doubt the cause of sleepless nights for some in the agriculture sector. However, the possibility of a new kind of system for farm subsidies may help encourage diversification, with payments perhaps moving away from the existing model, which is largely based on the extent of the holding. The payments made to farmers for rural development projects under the existing CAP Pillar II may hint at the type of subsidy regime the UK could adopt in the next decade.

The idea of diversification is not a new concept to a great deal of farmers who are already exploring a variety of means to increase revenues and make their business sustainable, so that subsidies are a more of a bonus rather than the difference between ending the year in the red or black. 

Farmers across East Anglia are using their property in a variety of ways in addition to growing crops or rearing livestock, with the intention of ending their reliance on subsidies and to help protect against the effects of a poor harvest or lower commodity prices. 

New Permitted Development Rights, which allow certain types of change of use and development of property without the need for a full planning application, were introduced in 2014 in respect of agricultural buildings. This can allow farmers to utilise their existing buildings for flexible use, education and residential.

In an area of outstanding beauty, such as East Anglia, farmers increasingly cater for tourists by providing B&B’s and holiday lets. A barn conversion can make a wonderful home and sell for high prices on the residential property market. The utilisation of property for lease as commercial units can be a lucrative option, as can a well-stocked farm shop.

The key to success when it comes to diversification often comes down to finding a gap in the local market and making the most of any under-used resources at the disposal of the farmer. 

Before embarking on any project it is vital that full consideration is given to the financial and legal ramifications of each stage.  Expert accountancy and tax advice should be sought and any legal issues should be explored.  For example, are there restrictions or covenants affecting the use of the property or will you be required to obtain full vacant possession from an existing occupier before commencement of a project?

Greene & Greene can assist on all property aspects and can offer advice from in-house specialist tax lawyers with particular expertise in the agriculture sector.

For more information on the services offered by Greene & Greene Solicitors please visit www.greene-greene.com and follow on Twitter @GreeneGreeneLaw.

“This article was previously published in the East Anglian Daily Times on 15/7/17.”

Thursday
May252017

Greene & Greene continue its sponsorship of The Suffolk Show

The Suffolk Show is the county’s largest two-day visitor experience and a unique celebration of everything that makes Suffolk great, showcasing its agricultural heritage and unique offering of world-beating food and drink.

Greene & Greene Solicitors has been a loyal advocate of the Suffolk Show for a number of years and are delighted to be supporting the event again as joint sponsors of the Honorary Director’s Dinner.  Held the night before the show, the dinner is an opportunity for the judges, stewards and other supporters to raise a glass to the Show’s success.

Jonathan Mathers, head of the firm's agricultural and rural affairs team, is widely respected for his advice on farming matters and is looking forward to this year’s show. “The show seems to get bigger and better year on year, which is a credit to the team at the Suffolk Agricultural Association. Whilst my colleagues and I have enjoyed working with Bill Baker over the past three years, and wish him all the very best for the future, with this year’s show just around the corner we are delighted to join Bee Kemball, the first female director of the Suffolk Show in its 185-year history, at the Honorary Director’s Dinner”

If you would like advice on agricultural and rural property matters please get in touch with Jonathan Mathers via email at jonathanmathers@greene-greene.com or call him direct on 01284 717404.

For more information on the services offered by Greene & Greene Solicitors please visit www.greene-greene.com and follow on Twitter @GreeneGreeneLaw.

Monday
Mar272017

Land Registration – why delay?

Many readers may be surprised if they were to discover that some or all of their land and property is not registered at the Land Registry. But what exactly does that mean and why could it spell bad news?

Firstly, let’s have a look at some of the background to the system of land registration. Following a series of Registration of Title Orders the whole of England and Wales is now subject to compulsory land registration on certain trigger events such as the completion of a sale or mortgage. Compulsory registration was introduced in a piecemeal fashion across the country and in East Anglia the Orders came into effect on various dates, mostly during the 1970s and 1980s. However, much of Suffolk was not subject to compulsory registration until 1 December 1990.

In excess of 80% of the land in England and Wales is now registered but that still leaves large swathes of unregistered land. If land has not been subject to any disposal or mortgage since the locality became subject to compulsory registration, there is a strong possibility it will remain unregistered. This can be particularly common for farmland where the holding is often passed from generation to generation within a family or has been held in the name of a company or the farming partnership for several decades.

If your land is unregistered that means it is not registered at the Land Registry with a title number and title plan and you will need to be able to produce the original deeds as proof of your ownership. This can be easier said than done on many occasions. Historically, banks often held title deeds but following the disappearance of numerous branches and the merger of various institutions in recent years it can sometimes be difficult to trace the whereabouts of deeds packs. If not held by the bank, deeds may be stored by solicitors or at home but there is always the risk of them being mislaid or destroyed. The consequences of losing the original deeds to unregistered land can be serious, with dealings in the land becoming considerably more costly and time consuming as a consequence.

If your land is unregistered, you can make a voluntary application for First Registration at the Land Registry. Here are just some of the benefits of registration:

  • Registered land has state-backed security of title. 
  • The title register provides a record of ownership, so there is no longer a need to produce the historic title deeds as evidence. Duplicate copies of the title register and plan may be obtained from the Land Registry for a nominal fee which gives peace of mind and ends worry about losing deeds.
  • Costs on future dealings should be reduced because the conveyancing procedure is more straightforward and it can also help speed up transactions.
  • It becomes more difficult for anybody squatting on land to claim ownership by adverse possession.

The Land Registry also currently offers a reduced fee for voluntary First Registrations. Greene & Greene has extensive experience in preparing and submitting such applications for all types of property ranging from small plots or individual houses to entire farms.

At a time of great uncertainty, many of our more progressive farming clients are now taking measures to assess their assets and consider the opportunities available to them moving forward. In addition to the benefits stated above, having a registered title makes it easier to clearly identify the extent and value of your land and this can assist in all manner of circumstances whether preparing a schedule of landholding assets or a new Partnership Agreement.

If you require assistance on a possible First Registration or any proposed transaction please contact Tom Andrews (thomasandrews@greene-greene.com or direct on 01284 717407) For more information on the services offered by Greene & Greene Solicitors please visit www.greene-greene.com and follow on Twitter @GreeneGreeneLaw

Friday
Nov042016

Divorce and the Farming Family

 

 The damaging effects of divorce are often felt more acutely in cases involving farming families: especially so where the farm has been held within one family for generations.

Often farming businesses will involve Partnership or Corporate Structures, land may be co-owned with extended family, land ownership may be within or outside of business structures and various land or property assets may also be held in Trust.  These can all complicate matters.

Typical questions that arise are:

  • How can the assets be divided fairly where a farm has been passed dynastically to one spouse through the generations?
  • What weight will the court apply to the financial and non-financial contributions of the non-owning spouse?
  • Will the court force a sale or transfer of land and property?  

The court’s approach can be unlike other cases and present unique challenges.

The court is tasked with arriving at a fair outcome and must meet the parties’ (and any dependent children’s) reasonable needs. In doing so the court will consider whether the farming family intended that the farm should be passed down through the generations. The court will have to consider whether the farming family can and should retain the farm (in so as far as that is possible) even if that means an overall unequal division of assets. Numerous other factors including the standard of living enjoyed by the parties during the marriage can also be taken into account. 

Funding a settlement may require finance to be raised against the retained farm. Land may need to be sold in order to retain the majority of the farm to pass on to future generations.  Many farming businesses experience cash flow and liquidity issues which can make it difficult (or impossible) for income generated from the farm to satisfactorily meet the needs of two separate households following separation.  

The Family team at Greene & Greene has a wealth of experience and a proven track record of success in farming cases. The team is also able to call upon specialists in the Agricultural Property and Estate Planning teams to deliver creative and bespoke solutions.

Divorces involving family farms are often complex and it is important that if you find yourself in this position you seek the assistance of a lawyer experienced in this area. 

If you require any further advice regarding a divorce involving farm assets then please contact Stuart Hughes (stuarthughes@greene-greene.com or 01284-717493) or Melanie Pilmer (melaniepilmer@greene-greene.com or 01284-717418) who will be pleased to assist you.  For more information on Greene & Greene please visit www.greene-greene.com or follow @greenegreenelaw on Twitter.

 

(Editorial first published in East Anglian Daily Times Rural Review, September 2016)

 

Friday
Jan292016

Flooding: An Act of God?

The dreadful effects of flooding have been graphically illustrated once again by the events in Cumbria, Lancashire, Yorkshire and areas of Scotland over the course of the past few weeks. In legal terms flooding is often described as an act of God: in other words it is something for which no person can be held responsible. This is not always true for, on occasions, those affected by flooding can have a legal remedy.

If the way in which a landowner or occupier uses or manages his land generates flooding that would otherwise not have occurred or makes flooding worse, he may be liable for those consequences on a number of grounds, including negligence and nuisance.

We have successfully pursued flooding claims for a number of clients. Two examples include: -

  1. Recovering compensation for a client whose house was repeatedly flooded following a change of use of the adjoining farmland by its owners, which resulted in water run off whenever it rained heavily.
  2. Establishing liability against a landowner who mismanaged the repair and maintenance of, and the drainage associated with, a large pond on her land with the result that it overflowed during periods of heavy rain and flooded our client’s property. Our client’s compensation ran into hundreds of thousands of pounds.

If you have been affected by flooding or are worried about your responsibilities as a landowner or occupier please contact Michael Batty (michaelbatty@greene-greene.com / Telephone 01284 717414) or Andrea Nicholls (andreanicholls@greene-greene.com / Telephone 01284 717531) in our Dispute Resolution Team.  For more information please visit http://www.greene-greene.com/energy.html and follow @greenegreenelaw.

Monday
Jan112016

Farmers Weekly: What to do if escaped stock cause damage by Andrea Nicholls

(This article was first published in Farmers Weekly, 4 December 2015)

Question:               My stock have escaped and damaged my neighbour’s property what should I do and am I liable to pay for damage to their lawn for example?

Answer:                  Yes.  Your liability for damage caused to property by straying livestock (and the legal definition of livestock includes all the usual farm stock species) is a strict liability.  This means that there is no need for the person whose property has been damaged to prove that you were at fault in any way in allowing the animals to stray.

If your stock stray you are liable to pay both for the damage which they cause to property and any costs which the property owner incurs in controlling or looking after the animals. 

You are liable to pay for the damage caused to the lawn and any costs that the lawn owner incurs in looking after the animals. It is best to collect the animals as soon as possible and pay for the damage.

Question:               Who is liable to pay for damage caused to property?

Answer:                  The person in possession of the livestock is liable to pay for any damage to property caused by straying livestock. The person “in possession” includes both the owner of the livestock and the owner of the grazing land from which the stock escaped. Either person can be sued and any savvy property owner would probably sue both. If you are grazing someone else’s stock on your land, you must agree as part of the Grazing Licence how liability for damage for strays is going to be shared.

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