A new year brings a great opportunity to take a step back from the business and plan for those matters that can easily be overlooked. Julie Liddle, a director of Robson & Liddle chartered surveyors, lists six ‘new year’s resolutions’ farmers can make to help avoid major issues and make 2016 a productive one.
1. Ensure you’re compliant with new laws
With many new rules and regulations, on top of the plethora already in force, it really is a good habit to keep up-to-date to ensure you don’t get caught out. A number of new laws came into effect during 2015, that may just have passed you by, for example, all let houses with open fires and wood burners now have to be fitted with smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors. There are also new laws in the pipeline for 2016 that farmers will need to plan for, such as legislation proposed for June that will prevent farmers buying professional-strength rodenticides unless they have a certificate of competence. This will require farmers handling such chemicals to receive training again, even if they have been trained in their use previously. You can research though the trade press and professional bodies but if you are unsure, please ask.
2. Review your property portfolio
Now is a good time to be reviewing your farm’s property portfolio, both residential and commercial. On the commercial side, are your current buildings and facilities enabling you to be as efficient as you can be? If not, what can be done to change this? On the residential side, are you taking advantage of the tax incentives available for your own farming property? If you rent out residential properties on your farm, there may also be an opportunity to generate more income by reviewing rents and terms of occupation. Obviously this applies to commercial rentals too.
3. Be on the front foot with your tax affairs
January is traditionally a busy time for tax advisers as the annual tax return deadline approaches. Now may be the last chance to ensure your accountant has all the information they need to manage your personal tax affairs effectively. On the business front, discussions with your tax advisers should also cover what tax planning may be required when investing in new plant and machinery in 2016.
4. Protect your livelihood by preventing crime
Crime in rural parts of England and Wales cost more than £800m in 2014, according to the National Rural Crime Network, with thefts of tractors and livestock costing 21 times more than previous estimates according to the research. When fixing budgets for the year ahead, make sure you factor in your security arrangements. Action taken doesn’t necessarily have to be high-tech. Padlocks on gates to fields, combined with regular inspections are sensible precautions to prevent theft of livestock. Blocking vehicle access to fields and woodlands is an effective low-tech deterrent against poaching and fly tipping. Meanwhile, technology such as CCTV, motion sensors and tracking devices that send alerts to your phone are also becoming cost effective and should be considered to protect high value machinery and vehicles.
5. Revisit your plans for farm diversification
2016 brings more changes to the incentives available for various renewable technologies. For example, subsidies available for solar panels are going to be less generous than they were previously. Changes in the affordable housing market, such as rent caps, have also made some affordable housing development less viable, which may impact on farmers looking to strike deals to develop housing on their land. Now is as good a time as any to review any plans you have to diversify the farm.
6. Bolster flood defences
Being in Cumbria, we’ve seen first-hand some of the devastation caused by the flooding that followed Storms Desmond, Eva and Frank with many farms affected. It was another reminder that action needs to be taken at the highest levels to shore up the UK’s flood defences. Farmers can play their role by improving flood defences on their own land and in working with organisations like the Environment Agency to ensure any action taken also helps to prevent flooding in the wider area. As part of your thought process remember to consider whether you have appropriate insurance cover in place. It can be a real surprise to find out how much it costs to replace a building, particularly of the bricks and mortar type.
For more information on planning your farming affairs for 2016, call Julie on 01768 254 354.