What does it say about our industry that a year short of a sensible retirement age I have reached the average age of its practitioners?
Wherever farmers gather it is always a depressingly grey affair (unless it’s in places like Blackpool or Torquay for the Young Farmers convention which is just as depressing but for different alcohol fuelled reasons). Now I am a part of that sea of oldies, and I’m wondering why do we all carry on?
The most obvious reason is that our accountants endlessly nag us to “die with our wellies on” to make sure that our farms qualify for agricultural property relief (APR) from inheritance tax. If we don’t keep at it, they lecture us, we will not be deemed “working farmers” on death, and HMRC will help themselves to nearly half our farm immediately after we die. This is true, but there is nothing to stop us giving our assets away while we are still alive and, provided we or our spouses live for just a few years after we make the gift, no inheritance tax is payable.
Brexit also raises another danger for farmers convinced that the safest way to pass on their farms to heirs is to work until we drop. The abandonment of the basic payment scheme by 2024 means that a huge number of farms may struggle to remain profitable, and HMRC are challenging the principle of APR unless a farm can show a consistent trading profit. (Only last month, an accountant told me in shocked tones that a large farm she does accounts for had just lost APR on a large owner occupied farm for probate purposes because the farm business had not made a profit for eight years).
But I don’t suppose any of these arguments will make any difference to me or to many of my ageing farming peers. We will all soldier on farming, regardless of tax regimes or farm profitability. Many of us never became farmers for financial reasons in the first place – we simply inherited our farms from our parents and carried on the family tradition. Many of us had to wait until a ridiculously late stage of our lives before we finally did inherit the farm from our last surviving parent so why should we now be in any hurry to give it all away?
Or is it that most farmers who carry on farming until they die simply distrust their heirs even more than they do the tax man?