Monday, 29 September 2014

Great produce at the great Wells Food Festival

With many commodity prices on the slide farmers are feeling the pinch and yet the food and drink industry represents a very important part of our economy in the south west. Therefore it is important that both sectors recognise the importance of each other and work together for mutual benefit.

In this context any event which promotes the importance of food, its connection to local producers and the community within which the food is produced and consumed must be a good thing.

Therefore it is great news that after last year’s successful inaugural event, the second Wells Food Festival is scheduled to take place on Sunday 12th October. The event aims to celebrate the best of Somerset’s local produce featuring over 50 stalls manned by artisan food producers.

But the event goes further than just celebrating food itself; education and broadening people’s horizons is also important. For instance, one of the great successes of last year was the invitation which was extended by TV chef Valentina Harris to 10 pupils from the Blue School in Wells who, having helped with the Great Somerset Lunch 2013, were invited to the Universita dei Sapori, a state-of-the-art cookery school in Perugia, Italy. In return, this year the Food Festival organisers have invited 10 students from Perugia to come to Wells to help prepare a superb Italian Sunday lunch using Somerset produce.

In addition to the Italian lunch, chef Tom Hunt will be hosting the Forgotten Feast’s Autumn Banquet where the emphasis will be on using produce that may be rejected by the picky buyers of supermarkets and other retail outlets. In so doing he will try to open everyone’s eyes to the wastefulness of some of our current practices by producing a delicious seasonal feast prepared from the abundance of Somerset’s autumn produce, much of which is forgotten, unused or otherwise going to waste.

The festival will include a whole host of other events including kids activities, a vintage tea party, food related talks and walks plus foodie quizzes and other competitions. There will even be a tent in which you can try your hand at a radio controlled ploughing competition!

So there should be something for everyone and in my view the more people who come to appreciate the importance of food and its connection with the farmers who produce it and the landscape which has been created by farming practices over the centuries, the better.

For more information about this event or to purchase a ticket for one of the lunches go to

James Stephen MRICS FAAV
Rural Practice Chartered Surveyor, Wells

T: 01749 683381

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Greening measures for arable crops

As the new Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) looms in to site on 1st January 2015, changes are already afoot with farmers having to make sure this autumn’s planting of arable crops will be compliant with the new Greening measures.

However, another date is also looming that may be of significance for some, which is the deadline for transferring single payment entitlements. This is of importance for several reasons.

First, if one is wanting to transfer entitlements under the new scheme, there are likely to be delays before the transfer is confirmed which may cause unnecessary hassle when completing next year’s forms for the first time. Therefore getting the entitlements transferred under the old scheme will mean they are automatically transferred to BPS entitlements ready for immediate use next year which may make life easier.

Second, and perhaps of more importance for some, the person acquiring the entitlements under the new scheme rules will have to qualify as an “active farmer”, the precise meaning of which is still not entirely clear. This may be of significance for organisations such as wildlife trusts or landowners who may have purchased land but who do not necessarily farm in a traditional sense.

To avoid any concern regarding the interpretation of these new rules, individuals or organisations who think they may be affected by the active farmer test should seriously consider acquiring entitlements prior to the 21st October deadline.

This is not likely to affect very many people or organisations but it could catch some people out who have up until now have been able to make legitimate claims under the existing Single Payment Scheme but this may not be quite so straightforward under the new scheme. Also, farmers who may sell land to such people will have to ensure that the recipient of the entitlements is eligible to receive them otherwise this may upset some land transactions.

No doubt there will be ways of manoeuvring around these rules to achieve the desired result, whether that be through some form of contracting farming arrangement or the like, but if one is looking for a simple life, now may be the time to think about transferring entitlements so as not to get tied up in unnecessary complications or delays in receiving BPS entitlements next year.  

James Stephen MRICS FAAV
Rural Practice Chartered Surveyor, Wells

T: 01749 683381

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Goodbye holiday, hello Autumn!

As much as we all love and need our holidays it is always a relief for estate agents when the second week of September arrives and our buyers are back home, refreshed and, generally, raring to go – giving us a good two months to make it all happen before Christmas.

This year, however, we will be even more delighted when the outcome of this week’s momentous Scottish Independence Referendum is finally revealed. No market likes uncertainty and it has been interesting to see the impact of Scotland’s potential break-away from the UK on the property market.

Whatever the outcome is, the fact we will have a result will help in a way that endless speculation hasn’t.

This has been specifically noticeable amongst London buyers. With many of our London buyers working in the City, the financial markets’ trepidation has rippled out into ours. This, therefore, has contributed to a slackening in demand for larger family houses in the £1,000,000 plus price bracket.

With any luck, Scotland will decide to stay in the fold and we can all raise a whisky or two to a revival of confidence.

On the other hand, a sector of the market which has shown tartan-resistant strength is the retirement bracket. The demand for good village houses within walking distance of amenities, together with spacious reception rooms, a reasonable sized garden and off road parking/garaging is especially strong.

As 2014 took off with the wind fully in its sails, we confidently expected the year to continue as such. Mark Carney’s warning of impending interest rate rises certainly contributed to deflating the London market ‘bubble’. However, frustratingly, this took the puff out of the country bubble which had only just started to inflate and was a long, long way off bursting.

However, the consensus is that when the base rate does rise, it will be in incremental stages. Such baby-steps will not only be easier for householders to plan-for and manage but are also unlikely to spook the financial and residential property markets.

Looking at this positively, a gentle pulling-in of the reins should ensure a more contained, steady and long lasting growth.

Caroline Edwards
Residential Sales, Long Melford

T: 01787 888622

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Find out what our tenants have said

Earlier this year we offered our all our tenants the opportunity to provide feedback by way of a questionnaire on what they really want a rental property to provide, their properties management service and to share their thoughts on the UK rental sector. We had a fantastic response and I would like to share with you the results in our first Tenant Insight report. Download our latest report.

Lisa Simon, 
Head of Residential Lettings
T: 020 7518 3234 

Reasons to be cheerful

This summer’s international news agenda has been tough reading and viewing. “Wars and rumours of wars” have always been the drivers of news, particularly so in our digital existence with web pages and broadcast hours to be filled round-the-clock.

While it’s been far from the silly season of summers past, weaved in to the news agenda have been more positive things. Many of these stories feature the word ‘happy’ and have lightened the mood of the summer and should give us food for thought.

Happiness can and is being measured by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). In the month in which daylight was at its longest in the northern hemisphere, the ONS analysed a raft of European data to conclude that Britain is the 11th happiest country on our continent. At 71.8 per cent, we are marginally happier than France where 71.6 per cent of adults rated their life satisfaction above or equivalent to seven out 10. This puts Brit adults just behind Germany at 72.3 per cent. Top marks went to Denmark at 91 per cent, leaving Bulgaria being the least satisfied of EU countries at just 38.3 per cent. I’m not sure what governments will do with this data but it’s interesting that they are bothering to find out.

Meanwhile in the People’s Republic of China, it’s been reported recently in the western media that quality of life has been promoted above GDP as an performance measure in a number of cities and administrative areas. Apparently, focusing solely on GDP as the key to local officials’ promotion has seen industrialisation and development rampage to the neglect of the environment, agricultural land and social welfare. So in, selected areas - although it is notable not yet in the showcase cities and areas - measures of success such as raising living standards and what President Xi Jinping calls ‘hidden achievements’ will be taken into account in judging local officials’ rise through the ranks.

Countries often look to sport when it comes to fostering a feel-good factor in their populace. Glossing over the FIFA World Cup, there was the success of the Home Nations in the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and the European Athletics Championships. The England women’s team finally triumphed to win the Rugby World Cup after being in the runner’s up position in three previous appearances. Then, billed as a comeback, there was the Test Match Series win over the Indian cricket team by England’s men which restored a little of the pride which had been so comprehensively dented by the Ashes tour of Australia last winter.

Many of us will have come back from holiday to burgeoning email in-boxes and that’s even if we did break pledges to partners and sneaked a look at our smart phones and tablets while on holiday. But not-so employees of Daimler, whose board members wanted staff to properly relax.

The car company instituted a ‘Mail on Holiday’ system on its email server whereby the auto reply told the emailer that the emailee was on holiday and the message would be deleted but gave a non-holidaying employee contact as an alternative. Imagine how much happier – and more productive – that first morning back at work must have been for those workers and execs? This will surely contribute to Germany scoring higher on the ONS’s analysis of life satisfaction data next year.

Finally, it looks like the Bank of England is coming round to nudging up the base interest rate – well, two members of the Monetary Policy Committee are anyway. The prevailing view is that to nudge in incremental amounts, when the Bank faces up to the inevitable and raises the rate, will be easier on the economy than full percentage point rises at a time.

This is the economy which, by the way, the Governor of the Bank of England confirmed in August was half way to recovery and, presumably, he’ll and we’ll know when we arrive.

Will Mooney MRICS

Commercial, Cambridge

Milk price wars

Milk prices are falling fast in the face of sharp falls in world market prices for a variety of dairy products and on the home front supermarket milk price wars are not helping either.

The big four milk processors have all announced milk price cuts for September and October which will result in many farmers receiving less than 30p per litre with those unfortunate enough to be supplying First Milk, seeing prices dropping as low as 25.1p per litre.

Prices on the online Global Dairy Trade auction run by the New Zealand based co-op, Fonterra fell again on 2nd September by 6% which means that average price has dropped by 45% since the market peaked in February this year.

Why the world markets should experience such peaks and troughs in prices has always puzzles me but in simplistic terms, I suspect as prices fall, so too will world production as some farmers cease production while those that continue will probably not try to push their cows with expensive feed stuffs to produce that extra litre because the profit is not there.

As a consequence there will come a time when world supplies reach a level that demand will start to push prices back up, but increasing milk production is not that easy. One can feed cows with concentrates but if you want to increase cow numbers, it takes at least 2.5 years from birth to bring a heifer in to the production herd.

This is obviously a significant time lag and I suspect it is this lag which is a contributory factor to the very unhelpful oscillation in dairy commodity prices because once the cows are in the herd producing milk, one cannot “turn them off” which then contributes to the oversupply and downturn in milk prices.

I am sure there are also many other contributory factors to world markets prices but what seems inevitable at present is that milk prices are on the slide and our dairy farmers will have to brace themselves for some tougher months to come which will no doubt result in some farmers exiting the industry.

This is obviously a sad prospect but it is a trend that has been ongoing for as long as I can remember. For instance in 1995 there were 28,093 producers in England and Wales but by the end of 2013 there were only 10,581. This represents a 62% fall in producer numbers over that period and it seems likely that with the latest round of milk price cuts, the rate that producers will leave the industry will increase, at least in the short term.

However, as with many clouds there may be a silver lining for those that survive because with an ever increasing share of the market, there should be the prospect of making more money when the markets do return to more profitable levels. The big question is how long that will take and how much pain businesses are prepared to take in the interim.

James Stephen MRICS FAAV
Rural Practice Chartered Surveyor, Wells

T: 01749 683381

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

What to do to comply with the new Basic Payment Scheme rules?

As harvest draws to a close and cultivations in readiness for sowing next year’s crops are well under way, farmers still face considerable uncertainty as to what they will need to do in order to comply with the new Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) rules.

As most readers will be aware the Single Payment Scheme, which is the existing EU support scheme for farmers, will be replaced by the BPS from 1st January next year and in so doing farmers will need to comply with a whole raft of new rules, many of which seem to me to be entirely pointless. However, compliance with these new rules will be necessary if farmers are not to lose out on support payments next year.

It seems likely that with many agricultural commodity prices at low levels, these EU support payments will be even more important next year in order to balance the books. However it is frustrating that following the publication of the latest update from DEFRA on the new rules, there are still many questions left unanswered.

In particular some of the rules surrounding Ecological Focus Areas (EFAs), that form part of the “Greening” measures which will affect many arable farmers, are not entirely clear. Under these rules, farmers with more than 15 hectares of “Arable Land” may have to put 5% of their arable land in to an EFA.

The simplest way to do this is to “set aside” 5% of the Arable Land as “fallow”. But care is required to understand both the definition of “Arable Land” land and what will qualify as “fallow”. I do not have space to deal with these complexities here but suffice it to say one can end up with some rather counterintuitive results, which for example will allow temporary pasture to qualify as fallow provided it is not cropped or grazed between 1st January and 30th June. It seems to me this will achieve absolutely nothing of benefit for either farmers or the environment.

Another option is using hedges as a means of claiming the 5% EFA. However, the rules in relation to hedges seem even more confusing. At present it seems clear that if a hedge is bordered directly by arable land in the ownership of one farmer, then the hedge can be claimed. However, if the hedge borders permanent pasture, a road or a neighbour’s land on the other side, it is not clear whether this hedge can be used to contribute to the EFA and if so to what extent.

Further guidance is awaited on this and many other points of detail from DEFRA and so my advice to farmers is to keep things as simple as possible in the first year of the new scheme and plan next year’s cropping on the “knowns” rather than waiting for DEFRA to define the “unknowns”. 

James Stephen MRICS FAAV
Rural Practice Chartered Surveyor, Wells

T: 01749 683381