Brexit-proofing the farming business

Published April 25th, 2017

The Basic Payment makes up between 90 per cent and 180 per cent of bottom line profit on mainly arable farms (source: Churchgates Farm Business Survey 2016, Top 25 per cent vs Average).

For the top 25 per cent of businesses that might still make a profit without BPS, the quantum of the profit is generally way below a sustainable return to provide for capital reinvestment and a living for the proprietor.

BPS is only guaranteed until 2019 claim year. Thereafter the future is uncertain. Whilst agriculture is by no means the only subsidised industry in the UK, politically the case for funding agriculture is probably quite weak.

Berrys has a three point plan to survive beyond BPS:

1. Ensuring maximum technical and cost efficiency – there remains a wide disparity of costs and performance on farm, with the better businesses achieving better gross margins and lower labour and machinery costs.

2. Utilising all existing farm assets to the full, engaging in appropriate diversification and added value opportunities.

3. Reviewing the deployment of the business’s capital and seeking to increase return through diversification of investment. With land typically earning anywhere between half and one per cent return on capital the profits of a business can be substantially increased by investing in higher return assets like commercial property at, say, eight per cent. This can take various forms:

• Creating capital windfalls from planning opportunities and reinvesting the proceeds into commercial property.

• Using surplus funds/equity to invest in commercial property on a fully or semi geared basis (commercial property returning in excess of 8.5 per cent is cash flow neutral if debt funded over 20 years at 3.5 per cent after allowing for purchase costs, management fees, landlords costs and tax).

• Selling outlying land or property assets in order to redeploy the capital for greater return. For example, 60 acres of land might earn an annual income of £5,000 but the same capital invested into commercial property might earn £40,000. Thus a 500-acre business could do away with its reliance on BPS by becoming a 440 acre business with a separate managed commercial property.

Clearly this sort of thinking has additional considerations especially tax, succession, business objectives etc. and is potentially a radical way to restructure a farm business. However, to create sustainable businesses for the future the one key underutilised asset on many farms is the strength of the balance sheet and the one key weakness is the low return on capital of that balance sheet.

For assistance contact William Tongue at the Kettering office of Berrys on 01536 532375, email or Matt Anwyl at the Shrewsbury office on 01743 267064,  email

For more information...

Visit our relevant website page: Farm Business Management

More about William Tongue

BSc (Hons) FBIAC
Business Consultant
Tel: 01536 532385
Mobile: 07866 693899

William is from a Bedfordshire farming family and is a partner at Berrys following the merger with Samuel Rose in July 2012. He has a first class honours degree in Agricultural Business Management from Wye College, University of London. He is a Fellow of the British Institute of Agricultural Consultants and the Institute of Agricultural Management.

William specialises in business consultancy and his services include: strategic business appraisals, budgets and monitoring, renewables, joint ventures, expert witness, grant funding, diversification, basic payment scheme and agricultural planning appraisals.