Opinion: Farm rent review hostilities commence

Giles had been given a whole year’s notice of commencement of hostilities, so he was thoroughly dug in.  

“Don’t strike until you can see the pattern of their Harris tweed” was Giles’ approach to a landlord’s agent at a rent review. 

And, boy, was he well armed for this one. His milk cheque was down by one-third, the best bid he could get for new-season wheat was £112/t, and even the price he was receiving for his fat lambs and fat cattle was down by one-fifth on the year before.  

“It will be like shooting fish in a barrel,” Giles chuckled to himself as he thought about the meeting ahead.

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A VW Touareg rolled up the drive to the farmhouse that formed part of Giles’ AHA 1986 farm tenancy. As he went to greet his visitor, the farmer could just make out the sickly smooth strains of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons coming from the top-of-the-range 4X4, even though the sound was deadened by the thick velour carpets and calfskin seats that lined the luxury interior. 

Stephen CarrStephen Carr farms an 800ha sheep, arable and beef farm on the South Downs near Eastbourne in partnership with his wife Fizz. Part of the farm is converted to organic status and subject to a High Level Stewardship agreement

Giles stood awkwardly on his doorstep, unable to establish eye contact with the driver thanks to the tinted windscreen and dark privacy glass that formed the windows of his guest’s vehicle. 

The immaculately groomed, dressed and shod figure of Terrence Smooth emerged from the driver’s door. Smooth glanced at his enormous wristwatch through his Ray-Ban shades to signify what a busy man he was.

“Sorry if I’m a minute or two late, old boy,” he said in his ludicrously clipped RP foghorn voice that stirred Giles’ sheep three fields away. “Trouble is, I can’t get a minute’s peace for people wanting to buy farms – my God, things are hot in the land trade. You do realise the value of the asset you’re sitting on here, I suppose?”

Giles beckoned Smooth into his farmhouse kitchen as his visitor commented: “Charming, charming. If only I had this to let to a set of parents at St Posh’s just down the road. Those yummy mummys do like to be on hand to see little Tory play her rounders or little Jamie score his first 50!”

“Tea?” asked Giles, feeling increasingly ill at ease.

“Coffee. A double-soy-milk cappuccino with a dash of fairtrade Kenyan cinnamon. Otherwise, instant and black will be fine,” said Smooth as he unzipped his iPad. “You may not have espresso, but you have wireless, I take it?”

Giles set the kettle on the hob and rummaged through the cupboard looking for some Kenyan cinnamon without much conviction. 

Scrolling casually through his Excel spreadsheets, Smooth remarked breezily: “I’ve looked at the acreage and done a quick calculation. Your Basic Payment Scheme should come to £30,000 this year, even with the euro where it is.”

“Disastrous,” muttered Giles.

“Oh, I don’t know,” chirped Smooth, “not bad when it pays more than half your rent and then there’s your HLS agreement.”

“That’s n..n..n..none of your business,” stuttered Giles, almost spilling the Nescafé from the teaspoon. “That’s part of my ‘crop’ – nothing to do with the landlord.”

“Oh I don’t know about that. I think at arbitration – and God knows neither of us wants the ruinous expense of one of those – we would be entitled to know what the level of HLS payments are.”

“Anyways,” said Giles, mustering his arguments “my milk cheque…”

“Ah yes, the milk cheque,” interrupted Smooth. “I hope you are signed up to the right contract. Some of the tenants on the estate are on 34p/litre. You have to get the genetics of the cows about right to make the job pay.  What is your average yield a cow? Don’t answer if it is less than 8,000 litres and you want to be taken seriously.” 

Giles didn’t answer. By the time Smooth was finished with him an hour later, he had gratefully signed up to a rent increase of 25%.

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