The new year kicked off with the Ulster Farmers’ Union area meeting, where we were updated on current situations. About 250 local farmers and I hoped the positive vibes reported from the Oxford Conference would be highlighted.
Unfortunately, this was not the case, at least for me, as I took the opportunity to be critical of my union’s stance on the debate regarding inheritance tax on our conacre land-letting system, which accounts for one-third of the farmed land in Northern Ireland.
I had hoped to persuade the leadership to allow a full debate through its Policy Committee Structure. I failed, but had those who concurred with me after the meeting spoken up in support, things might have been different.
My main point was the full inheritance tax relief given to owners of agricultural land rented out under this system gives farms an inflated value – approximately twice the UK average – and as a result extravagant rental values, also probably twice the UK average.
The abolition of inheritance tax relief on conacre land would halve land values and consequently rental value. This would save farmers millions of pounds and allow a badly needed restructuring of Northern Ireland agriculture.
Apparently the banks would not be happy. Stuff the banks, they have used our deeds as security to borrow money from other banks, and now we are all paying for it.
As for field work, it’s been nonexistent. Fortunately, we are having good interest from groups of farmers visiting our business, as we are DARD-sponsored focus farmers.
The nice thing about having visitors is the exchange of views for mutual benefit. Next week we are hosting a group of young farmers. Hopefully I will persuade them, as Oxford predicted; there is a rewarding future out there.