Having always enjoyed working with a clutch of agency and surveying clients who make a happy living in the rural market in the areas of land agency, estate management, farm management and farm consultancy it is good to see that some law firms have seen the light and focused attention on this important market.
Agriculture currently uses about 10,850,000 hectares of land in England and Wales, around 72% of the total area. In 2003, this was used mainly as grass and rough grazing (57.2%) and crops and bare fallow (35.4%). All other agricultural activity made up the rest (7.4%). Average farm business income is expected to fall by approximately 8% in 2008/09 to £44,300 per farm.
Knight Frank research suggested that first quarter 2009 farmland prices were 1% above those of the same quarter in 2008 whilst farm house prices fell by around 20%. Yet agricultural land has tended to retain value and management contracts offer stimulating, if challenging, steady work. A recent article in The Lawyer provided some insight into the legal firms in the East Anglian market:
Howes Percival in Norwich reports “Real estate turnover is up and a lot is in East Anglia…There’s a lot of cash available”.
Mills & Reeve in Cambridge said that “Land prices are bearing up quite well” and has picked up new clients investing in the area, including a pension fund, landed estates and offshore investors.
Birketts, in Ipswich and Norwich, is seeking to grow in Cambridge.
It may be that the margins are only attractive to smaller firms as Eversheds has decided to close its Norwich office.
Demand is being driven by those with an interest in shooting and sporting rights, as well as the potential for residential development and alternative energy sources.
In England there is plenty of farmland beyond East Anglia – whilst Lincolnshire and Norfolk clearly have the most, there is significant amounts in Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire and even Nottinghamshire.
But beyond real estate, there are shortages of lawyers who know agricultural law and regulations and advisers who can keep up to date with all the taxation changes. Property professionals in the market also mine a rich vein of family management work which offers potential to private client lawyers.