Friday, 29 May 2015

Wish there was something positive to say...

I wish there was something positive to say in the world of agriculture but today farmers are under pressure across all sectors.

This will undoubtedly put severe strain on some farming businesses where the squeeze on cash flow is going to be a problem in the coming months.

Wheat, milk and lamb prices are now down 32, 26 and 17 per cent respectively compared to this time last year.

Meanwhile, although finished beef cattle prices have only fallen by around five per cent, many beef rearing units are really struggling. This is because they rely on making a margin between the price of the young cattle they buy and the price of the finished product, but this spring they have found the price of young cattle has been very strong, leaving them badly exposed to potential losses if the finished beef price does not rise significantly.

The whole situation is further compounded by the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) making a pretty good hash of introducing the new Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) through which farmers receive support payments from the EU.

In the past farmers have become used to receiving these payments in early December but agricultural consultants Andersons are suggesting farmers should not budget to receive this year’s payment until March 2016.

In contrast the RPA chief executive Mark Grimshaw said he would be very disappointed if most claims under the BPS were not paid out by the end of January. Obviously the sooner such payments are made, the better, but even if payments are made by late January this will still be two months later than in the recent past which will put pressure on many businesses.

That is not to say all farmers are struggling and in the milk sector in particular some farmers are still on favourable contracts and are being paid a reasonable price for their milk. In these circumstances good profits can still be made but the gap between the best and the worst milk contracts has widened enormously with the result that some will be losing large sums of money very fast indeed.

However, excluding the lucky few, most farmers are experiencing very challenging times and with the pound remaining strong on the foreign exchange markets this is making our exports less competitive and imports comparatively cheap, which is not helping any of the agricultural produce prices in this country.

Farmers are set for challenging times ahead and at present there are no obvious bright spots on the horizon.  

James Stephen MRICS FAAV
Rural Practice Chartered Surveyor, Wells

T: 01749 683381

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Only at Worthy Farm could you see such a surreal scene.

More than 1,000 dairy farmers from all over the country were crowded on to Glastonbury Festival’s Pyramid Stage to celebrate its organiser winning the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers (RABDF) Gold Cup.

Michael Eavis actually won the award last summer but as tradition has it, the winner invites dairy farmers from across the nation to visit his farm and learn the secrets of their success.

Michael spoke to the assembled crowd as the wind and rain buffeted the Pyramid Stage, conditions all too familiar for generations of festival-goers.

He explained how he had returned to the farm in Pilton aged 19, following his father’s untimely death and in the early years had to work in the coal mines to earn enough money to keep the farm going -- something I cannot imagine many other dairy farmers have done.

But that is not the first time Michael has bucked the trend and he went on to explain how attending the Bath Festival of Blues in 1969 at the Bath and West Showground inspired him to hold the first Pilton Pop Festival in 1970 which over the years has grown into the world famous Glastonbury Festival.

However Michael Eavis has remained a dairy farmer, expanding from 60 cows on 150 acres back in the 1950s to 385 cows and 570 acres today.

Michael was clearly proud to have won the prestigious award and he emphasised the vital role played by his staff, most notably husband and wife team John and Pam Taylor who manage the herd on a day to day basis.

Farmers were then invited to walk the farm and listen to a number of informative talks laid on by the organisers.

Running a dairy farm on the festival site certainly comes with challenges, but attention to detail means the dairy unit is going from strength to strength. Over the past few years herd manager John Taylor, in conjunction with Michael Eavis, has made considerable changes at Worthy Farm, with dramatic results.

“We used to operate as a flying herd (where dairy cow replacements are bought from other farms rather than being from home reared stock) but it just created too many problems with disease and cows not settling in,” says John.

“Now we’ve brought it all in-hand and seen good improvements.

“We’ve also changed the diet. Maize has replaced apple pomace which has boosted cow health.”

As the music festival takes over the whole farm in June each year, maize is grown on contract, and the cows are housed on sawdust and shavings over mats for most of the year.

The team is still making changes and aims to push cow numbers from 385 to 500 in the next few years and possibly increase milking frequency – perhaps using robots in the longer term to improve the quality of life for staff and cows alike.

All in all it was a very successful day despite the weather and I suspect it will be the nearest that most farmers will ever get to headlining on the Pyramid Stage.

James Stephen MRICS FAAV
Rural Practice Chartered Surveyor, Wells

T: 01749 683381

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

The 7 deadly sins & 7 heavenly virtues of buying and selling

In all parts of life there are things that can raise the blood pressure; likewise there are the lovely things which smooth the ride, put the spring in one’s step and, basically, bring out the best in everyone.

The seven deadly sins are listed as lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride. And the seven contrary virtues are chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, patience, kindness and humility.

In estate agency, we see the good and the bad highlighted on an almost daily basis and we might adapt The Old Testament sins and virtues as follows:


The pursuit of perfection: The ideal house has never been built and never will be. Look at properties with an open mind, heart and soul. You can make it into your perfect home with a little bit of imagination.

Refusing advice: Agents help people buy and sell houses on a daily basis; good agents know their market and have a constant finger on the pulse. Just as you would listen to your doctor’s advice, it’s a good idea to listen to your property professional. However, we do acknowledge this is likely to conflict with some armchair and dinner party experts.

Disloyalty: Disloyal buyers are on a par with disloyal sellers. Some sellers think that by changing their agent a whole new crop of buyers will miraculously appear. That rarely happens. If a house isn’t selling, it’s probably the price. So don’t be seduced by the touts. If your agent doesn’t return calls, advise on the price or put in the hard work required however – it’s a good decision to move on.

Greed: Cheeky bids are as unhelpful as unrealistic expectations on price.

Untidiness: People love to buy a lifestyle – they like to see tidy lifestyles even though they might not lead one themselves!

Poor planning: Squeezing 10 viewings into one day and wholly relying on SatNav – maps may be old fashioned but they work in Suffolk!

Rudeness: Estate agents are humans too. We’re here to sell your house as best we can and to find you the loveliest house we can. We do our job because we like people and want the best for them. People can forget this.


The virtues are simple and straightforward and, as obvious counterpoints to the sins, require no elaboration:

Trusting your agent; possessing an open and imaginative mind; realistic expectations; loyalty; patience; tidiness; appreciation.

And remember our business is minding other peoples’ – choose an agent with integrity. Buying and selling is as much to do with people as it is to do with houses.

Caroline Edwards
Residential Sales, Long Melford

T: 01787 888622

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Countryside development mixing with ecological issues

I am increasingly experiencing the problems associated with development in the countryside and its interaction with ecological issues.

All bats now receive protection at a European level, as do other species such as Great Crested Newts while many others are also protected at a domestic level via UK legislation. But the manner in which all this legislation is interpreted can result in an unintended economic impact with little or no environmental benefit.

The main beneficiaries of the legislation are the huge number of “ecological consultancies” which have sprung up in recent years, but because this is a very “young industry” the quality of advice given is very variable.

I suspect this is in part due to cuts in Natural England’s budget but equally I wonder whether their scrutiny of developments could not be better prioritised to speed up the process for all applications.

For example I have seen many instances where newt fencing has been erected at great expense around a development site but not properly maintained during a project, thereby negating the whole point of the exercise.

I have also been involved in one project where newts were being collected in buckets for relocation, only to find the local seagulls were eating the newts as fast as they fell in the buckets.

Then there are projects where a track is used regularly for agricultural or other purposes, but the moment it starts to be used for construction traffic, the track becomes part of the construction site and all the ecological bells and whistles apply. Yet immediately adjoining the site, a farmer can continue to plough up the land as he has always done.

The whole area of gaining ecological consents and the interpretation of the law needs serious examination.

The people with most to gain from the current situation are the ecological consultancies who decide what needs to be done and the more that needs to be done, the more money they make, while landowners often bear the costs and the wildlife sees little or no benefit from the ecological intervention.

No doubt many ecologists will disagree with these concerns but I suspect underneath, some will also question whether many of the habitat creation schemes, newt fencing projects or newt relocation exercises on which they have advised, have actually benefited wildlife.

Some form of cost benefit analysis needs to be brought to bear in all such projects to judge the level of ecological intervention that is reasonably required.

Meaningful discussion on the interpretation and implementation of ecological legislation in the UK, involving industry leaders on all sides of this debate, is needed now.

James Stephen MRICS FAAV
Rural Practice Chartered Surveyor, Wells

T: 01749 683381