The British farming industry is preparing itself for a ride, as the UK begins its journey towards exiting the EU. Some were eager to leave based on the hope of regaining control of British farming and now as Parliament sets out to implement Article 50, farmers and agricultural workers await on the changes in law. Anne Elliot is an expert in agriculture and speaks with us on the disputes she deals with, the evolution of agricultural law and what should be addressed as the UK leaves the EU.
What are the most common types of dispute you deal with related to the agricultural and rural industry?
Distribution of assets on death/succession, landlord and tenant relationships, partnership arrangements (formal/ informal and documented/undocumented).
How challenging is the agricultural sector to work in? How do you overcome these on a daily basis?
Rural businesses involve homes and livelihoods, not just jobs. Offering advice to clients can affect, or have implications, not only for our clients and their businesses, but also for their families, their neighbours, the surrounding rural area, their competitors, friends and foes. Every decision taken needs to be carefully considered, strategically thought through and well balanced. We use our expertise and experience within the agricultural sector and with our rural clients to help with those decisions.
What is the most popular/effective method of dispute resolution for agricultural disputes? Is ADR becoming more popular than litigation? Why?
I tend to work in the non-contentious area and hence refer to contentious agricultural work elsewhere. The most effective method of dispute resolution is talking and to encourage talking (though this is not always possible!).
As a thought leader, how have you helped visibly evolve the field of agricultural law?
Whilst not technically evolving the field of agricultural law, I like to think that I have been proactive in raising the profile of succession planning and its importance to the extent that the Land Agents, Accountants, Financial Advisers and Clients, with whom I deal know that I am a “woman on a mission”, to ensure that succession is planned and does not happen by default e.g. on death with all the appallingly difficult ramifications that can have for both the business and the family. I believe farmers are now more educated in the importance of succession planning.
Do you see the need for any new regulatory changes within this sector? If so, please explain.
Brexit is an obvious challenge for both the government and the agricultural sector – who knows what changes will be needed!
The sector may need to start considering how it will adapt if/when the government restricts Inheritance Tax reliefs; perhaps the current (and generous) availability of Agricultural and Business Property Reliefs will be reduced.
Hand in hand with this, the sector may ultimately need to address what will happen when Agricultural Holdings Act (AHA) tenancies have run their course and the AHA 1986 is no longer relevant. Will Farm Business Tenancies (FBTs) be the only form of letting of agricultural land, or, will the government create a new form of agricultural letting reference and legislation. Will the government look to restrict Inheritance Tax reliefs for tenanted land going forward?
With your experience as a farmer’s daughter, how do you believe you best understand your clients’ needs?
Farming is a way of life, not a job. Having experienced, lived and breathed the farming life helps you to understand what clients face on a daily basis: the 2 am phone calls to say the stock has escaped; the 5 am call to say the relief herdsman hasn’t turned up and you are needed to help with milking; the stock feed round every day of the year including Christmas Day and bank holidays; the rules, regulations and requirements to comply and ensure your produce is properly accountable and marketable; the constant monitoring of and worrying about the weather; the crucial timings of silage cuts and harvest, and the list goes on. You understand then that when your client needs you to act they want, need and deserve trust, confidence, and comprehensive and comprehensible advice delivered as quickly and cost effectively as possible. Our job is to ensure this happens.
How would you say your membership of the Agricultural Law Association (ALA) helped you change or further explore the agricultural law landscape?
The ALA offers superb access to other professionals involved in the agricultural field. It is a platform for sharing experiences, concerns and ideas and keeping up to date with developments and new legislation. It allows a connection to government to help influence future strategy, planning and legislation for the agricultural sector.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Agricultural work is both commercial and property based – businesses operating from and on land – but also, given the fact that most farms are still family run, intensely personal and therefore involving family dynamics, cases can at times be tense. It helps to have an instinct/sixth sense to try to identify tension/possible tensions (ideally before they develop). This can often head off disputes particularly related to the issues mentioned above!