With an agricultural heritage spanning 170 years, we are one of the long-established agricultural law firms. Our agricultural solicitors advise farmers, landowners, farming businesses and farming-related organisations on all their legal matters. We have close connections with the NFU, CLA, Warwickshire Rural Hub CIC and Warwickshire Farm Management Group.
Our experienced agricultural property team are able to advise in relation to the buying and selling of farms and advising on the ancillary matters that come with an agricultural transaction. Our agricultural farms and estates team is headed up by Alex Robinson who has extensive experience in dealing with this specialist area supported by Paul Rice. Alex and her team will lead you through the process from start to finish.
Our solicitors can advise you on issues which you may need to consider prior to the negotiation, so that you may discuss these with your land agent to achieve the most advantageous deal for you. If the terms of the transaction have already been agreed, you will be taken through the various stages of the conveyancing process. Firstly there is the investigative stage where searches will be carried out and advice given on any search results depending on whether you are buying or selling; queries will be raised on your behalf or responded to; we would deal with any legal aspects of any funding which is needed to facilitate the purchase and act on behalf of the lender where appropriate. We also deal with any Stamp Duty requirements which arise as a result of the transaction. You will be guided through the stages needed to secure the exchange of contracts and then through to completion. We then deal with any post-completion work which is needed to record the transaction at the Land Registry.
Our team is also able to advise on any ancillary issues such as land which is encumbered by tenancies, deal with rights of way and easements, the granting of overage or the discharge of any overage obligations attached to the land and the granting of any leases or tenancies which might be required.
Our agricultural property lawyers are familiar with dealing with equestrian property, both as a standalone transaction and when forming part of a bigger transaction. This can sometimes comprise both a residential dwelling and an equestrian facility on a single site and our lawyers will be able to guide you through the issues which you need to consider when buying or selling a property of this nature.
Our team also advise equestrian clubs, associations and governing bodies.
Our farms and estate team headed up by Alex Robinson deals with all types of property disposals ranging from small paddocks to hundreds of acres of land. Our team is familiar with dealing with different types of land such as mixed use and bare land often with various different uses at the point of sale. Our team will be able to guide you through the sale process which includes dealing with any queries which are raised by the purchaser which requires often requires specialist knowledge in respect of rights of way, easements and the transfer or retention of any entitlement to subsidies.
Our solicitors would also consider any leases or licences which exist, any rights of way or easements which exist or need to be granted to access land which has been retained, advise on any farm business tenancies or other tenancy documentation which may need to be drafted, liaise with your agent throughout the transaction and ultimately complete the sale of your property.
Just like any other sector, disputes can arise for a multitude of reasons. Agricultural disputes can range from machinery or equipment which fail to meet the necessary standards, personal matters such as divorce or will disputes, issues arising out of professional advice which you may have taken which subsequently transpires to fall short of the expected standard or contract disputes relating to a sale or purchase of land, property or even, one that governs employment.
Our agricultural sector is comprised of lawyers with expertise in all of the areas mentioned and this is one of the benefits of using a full service law firm. The key to dealing with these disputes is for the lawyer whom you engage to have an understanding of the agricultural setting, what it means on a practical footing and how the dispute can best be dealt with to preserve relationships and look after assets for the next generation.
We have agricultural lawyers who specialise in the drafting of farm partnerships and business structures so as to ensure that the business is being dealt with in the most efficient way by recording the intention of the parties. Our wills, trust and tax team is able to advise you to ensure the arrangement is also tax efficient for the business. It is not uncommon for disputes to arise out of lack of documentation to support the set of circumstances at the relevant point in time and it really is worth sitting down around the kitchen table with your professional advisors to make sure matters are in hand.
Although slightly different from the farm partnerships and business structure, we also have extensive experience in drafting farm business tenancies. It is imperative that the terms on which such tenancies are carried out are recorded so as to protect both parties. Should anything then go wrong in the future there is a document on which either party can rely and if appropriate, enforce. A Farm Business Tenancy will set out the obligations which are imposed on the tenant and the responsibilities of the landlord. It is important for each party to know for what they are responsible so that the tenancy runs smoothly and relationships do not suffer as a result of any issues.
Our specialist commercial team are able to deal with the drafting of contracts for all aspects of business whether this be the terms of business for a new diversification project which you are embarking on or a lease for storage facilities which you are granting. It is important to consider all “what if” scenarios which might arise so that in the event the terms of business or lease has to be relied upon, there is documentary evidence of the terms that were agreed between the parties.
When drafting contracts of this nature, our commercial team are able to draw upon knowledge within other areas of the business so that for example, a lawyer in the property team could deal with the drafting of a lease of a premises, a member of the wills, trust & tax team could advise on any business tax implications that might arise out of the deal and the commercial lawyer draft the terms and conditions between the client and the end user.
Our commercial lawyers deal with individuals to national PLC companies and are well versed in thinking “outside of the box” to ensure that all eventualities are covered to protect your position going forward.
We have a dedicated property litigation team that deal with a wide range of disputes from fly grazing, to lease disputes, to ‘Notices to Quit’ in relation to tenancies, to boundary disputes. The lawyers dealing with these types of disputes are fully aware of the need to understand the agricultural law setting in which they exist and those lawyers have the necessary knowledge and interest in the Sector to be able to deal with matters so as to have as little impact on the farming business as possible. They are also more than willing to put on a pair of wellies and come and look at the issue as it appears on the ground!
The employment team deal with a wide range of issues both from an employer and an employee perspective. They are able to advise on farm worker’s contracts, compromise agreements and other matter where for example, the farming business is being wound up or relocated and there is a need to liaise with farm workers to put in place arrangements for the future, potentially meaning relocation.
The lawyers within our agricultural law sector are able to advise on the Animals Act and the liabilities associated with those animals, live stock issues including milk quotas, cattle passports and animal identification. Paul Rice, Head of the Agriculture Sector, has considerable expertise in dealing with regulatory matters ranging from the single farm payment scheme, RPA and compliance, the rural development programme, intervention and private storage aid schemes.
Either as a standalone issue or within a conveyancing transaction, we are able to advise on mineral or sporting rights which may need to be retained or granted to a buyer or tenant. It is extremely common for access to land and public rights of way to occur as contentious issues and we are experienced in both the drafting of such rights initially, and dealing with any disputes that arise thereafter.
Our strategic development team is well versed in dealing with matters involving renewable energy, windfarm and telecommunications sites. They also have considerable experience and are very highly regarded for their work in dealing with strategic land development. That work is further re-enforced by the expertise offered by the planning team. Both of these teams regularly work in conjunction with one another and take projects all the way from the first seed to the final completed project.
We advise farming families on tax and succession planning for the future ensuring that their business is protected for future generations. We work very closely with other professionals with extensive knowledge of the agricultural sector to ensure that matters are dealt with in the most efficient way possible from a taxation point of view and having in mind the future generations that may take on the business further down the line.
We also have a specialist contentious probate team dealing with will disputes, issues which arise in relation to an executor’s conduct where they have taken inappropriate or no action at all, where a member of the family has been left out of a will but believes that they should be provided for and proprietary estoppel claims. Proprietary estoppel ordinarily occurs in an agricultural setting where a son or daughter believes they are due to inherit the farm but on the passing of the parent, does not do so.
The expertise within the team not only lies with the wide ranging disputes that are dealt with on a daily basis but with the fact there is an understanding of the agricultural setting in which disputes arise. It is important to seek to achieve resolutions that preserve family relationships, preserve assets for future generations and allow the business to continue whilst a dispute is ongoing.
Our team are creative in their problem solving and this can range from the transfer of land retaining overage rights so as to benefit the transferring party, the granting of farm business tenancies or a combination of other solutions. It is important to understanding that the right resolution is not always a cash settlement sum and when dealing with agricultural disputes, it is not unusual for land assets to far outweigh cash assets.
Our matrimonial team
have extensive experience in dealing with divorces, pre-nuptial agreements and
cohabitation agreements. That combined
with their understanding of the agricultural sector gives them an advantageous
position when dealing with your matter.
It is often in these situations a case that the divorcing parties wish
to retain assets so as to provide for future generations but this is against a
background of more than one generation residing in the matrimonial home,
various family members of potentially an extended family unit being partners in
the farming partnership and the need to provide accommodation going forward for
both parties. In some circumstances,
trusts may be involved which have been set up from the wills of previous
generations and it is necessary for all of these issues to be taken into consideration
so as to provide a resolution which is satisfactory for all parties.
Alternative dispute resolution is often used to try and secure a settlement before resorting to the court process which not only saves costs but also allows all parties to “get around a table” and find a settlement which suits all of them whilst providing for the next generation.
Paul has been advising businesses in the agricultural sector for almost twenty years. We ask Paul to share his thoughts on the sector and how lawyers can help farmers to meet the challenges and opportunities they face.
"A challenging business environment"
Farmers have to be business people, first and foremost, and running a farming business nowadays can be incredibly challenging.
Although farmers have the shortest commute in the world, their horizons are, and have to be, truly global to be competitive. The world has changed, and continues to change, as a result of the 'perfect storm' of climate change and an increasing population. The world has to be fed but the environment has to be looked after. This conundrum is compounded by falling margins which means that business efficiency is more important than ever.
In 2004 I presented to 80 farmers at Moreton Morrell college. At this workshop I said that they were all part of the world market and I was faced with a sea of blank faces and shared incomprehension. Today most, if not all, arable farmers know the spot commodity prices on their smart phones and can tell you the state of the harvest in the Ukraine, middle America, Australia and New Zealand.
The profitable farming businesses of today are sophisticated and highly mechanised operations and farmers have to be technologically aware to understand how they can use that technology within their operation to drive efficiencies.
I am reminded of one Sunday morning when I was walking close to home and I saw a neighbour's tractor drill stationary in field. I asked them whether they were waiting for a mechanic to fix it; they were, in fact, waiting for a software engineer. With satellite tracking enabling machines to be driven consistently within a 20mm tolerance, farmers have to be technologically aware.
The supply chain has been challenged; we only have to remember the "Horsegate scandal" and how quickly buyer behaviour was influenced by supply chain revelations. In order to improve profits, farmers heed to add value and shorten the supply chain.
"An increasingly complex regulatory framework"
Farmers have to be aware of and responsive to the regulatory world in which they operate, from their obligations in relation to care of the environment through to the business structures which they need to set up.
CAP was introduced following WWII and the food shortages which ensued as concerns over displaced labour meant that farming was key to the survival of Europe. The purpose of CAP was to provide market support and pay for production so that Europe would not go hungry. However,over more recent years, there has been a greater awareness of the non-financial cost of food production and the impact of modern farming methods on the environment and the need to balance the two. The public have become more demanding and want "more bang for their buck" in relation to farming subsidies. There is general agreement with decision makers on a national and international stage that if farmers are receiving a payment from the public purse, the public need to see the benefit. This has resulted in a shift from direct payments to indirect payments which requires environmental management alongside specific modernisation projects.
Until 2004 farmers were protected from the market place by the CAP structure and production subsidy payments. The advent of SPS (decoupled payments) has meant that farmers are truly part of the world market.
Farm assets have historically been treated very beneficially by the government; for example, agricultural land can attract 100% relief from inheritance tax on death and there is no other industry where this approach is adopted. However, this beneficial environment is under attack and challenge. It is widely anticipated that this environment will change so it is important for farmers and rural business owners to understand what they can do now. Wright Hassall helps farmers to do just this ensuring that any business structure is tax efficient and appropriate.
"New business structures"
We have a long heritage of working with yeoman farmers - owner/ occupiers - and for many owning and operating your own farm has been seen as the only option. However, there are now new options for farmers to consider, beyond this.
The reality is that the average age of farmers has been increasing and there is a perception that the younger generation do not see farming as their future and there has been an exodus from the fields.
Alongside this, there are other people that are attracted to farming without access to a family farm. We regularly work with businesses to reconcile these two issues by creating new business structures to give access to people who want to farm the land whilst protecting the farm for the future for those generations that are currently not motivated to take on the family farming business.
"Managing risk and volatility"
Historically the agricultural sector was change averse. Nowadays, farmers can change and must change if they are to manage the risk and volatility successful which a challenging global market presents. Our agricultural team regularly works with farmers and rural business owners to help them to effect that change in the most cost effective way.
Agriculture has to be viewed in its broadest sense. The buzz word "from field to fork" does capture the importance of the whole supply chain from the initial supply of seed or birth of the animal to the consumer purchase. The Wright Hassall team regularly work with clients across all aspects of their supply chain and we are accustomed to considering projects holistically, "in the round". This is particularly true for clients looking at diversification projects and opportunities to generate income in a different way.
"Diversification does drive profitablity"
Many farmers do diversify and do other things to ensure that their business continues to be profitable, despite the global challenges that they face. Many farmers who practice husbandry on their live derive most of their profit from non-agricultural activities such as retail operations, commercial lettings. Sometimes these activities may, or may not, take place on the holding itself. Given our commercial expertise, Wright Hassall has the skill set to support farmers and rural business owners with all aspects of their diversified operations as we understand how non-agricultural activities operate within an agricultural environment.
Wright Hassall regularly works with landowners who are looking at opportunities to sell development land, working on all aspects of the planning process and to advise on all the barriers to development, including dealing with tenants.
"A successful partnership"
We work as a trusted partner with many farmers and rural business owners. Success for us is helping farmers to see that money spent on legal fees out of a farm budget is not a recurring evil but can save money down the line.
For many years, farmers relied on high street solicitors to advise them as a last resort on any legal matter they faced. Today - just as no one farmer can ever know everything about farming - it's important for farmers to understand that one individual solicitor can know everything about the issues that they face. Farmers need to work with a team of experts, securing the specialist advice they need. We pride ourselves on the fact that we can provide our farming clients with a team of agricultural law and sector specialists who bring relevant and credible experience of advising similar businesses.
Farmers - and farming - has changed and the sector is looking to its lawyers to also change.
"A single point of contact"
We appreciate that busy clients want a single point of contact. We manage the way we work to give clients that single point of contact, backed up by the specialist skills of a team of agricultural law experts.
It is important to us that we understand a client's business - from the ground up (literally!) - and we are always happy to go out and look at a farm. Experience has shown us that it is easy to tell very quickly from a site visit how efficient and well -run a farm or rural business is. It is impossible to get these impressions from sat behind a desk.
Underpinning our specialist sector knowledge is our strong assertion that building a strong working relationship is as important as our professional skills. With this in mind, we invest time (at our own expense) to build that relationship with our farming clients and we never charge our farming clients for visiting their farm or operations.
For further information or advice on any aspect on your farming business, please contact our agricultural solicitors on 01926 886688.
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