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Smallholders’ Handbook part 2

Here is our second instalment about joining the Good Life and living off the land with a sustainable smallholding.

At BigBarn we would love to promote thousands of profitable smallholdings on our UK Food Map, reconnecting people with where their food comes from and helping build inclusive, sustainable, communities around food.

To help here is the second of 12 extracts from Lorraine Turnbull’s book The Sustainable Smallholders’ Handbook

Finding a Suitable Property.
The biggest purchase most of us ever make in our lives is a house, and most of us have to take out a mortgage to do it. But getting a mortgage isn’t as easy as it used to be, and a steady income and a hefty deposit are both essential.

Fresh healthy veg

For many start-up smallholders, even those who have the deposit sitting snugly in their banks, the income requirement may be an insuperable obstacle; and with bare agricultural land selling at an average of £6,700 an acre at time of writing (with regional variations), and buildings costing extra, perhaps renting is your best bet. A lot of farms, medium as well as small, are run as long-term tenancies, usually ending with the death or retirement of the tenant. But where to start your search?

Most but not all private landowners use land agents, who are no more than specialist estate agents, to manage their properties (indeed many land agencies are the dedicated agricultural divisions of ordinary estate agents). Privately rented smallholdings are not all that thick on the ground, and many of them change hands by word of mouth without ever coming on to the open market.

Sustainable mixed farming

If you do find a private rental, though, get professional advice and scrutinise the lease much more closely than you would in the case of a privately rented dwelling: this is, after all, your living as well as your home. You will have to invest money in it, and you want to know well in advance all about issues such as security of tenure and restrictions on use. At the same time, the agents will want to be able to assure their clients that you’re competent and know what you’re about, that you’re solvent, that you aren’t going to engage in anything shady or illegal, and that the property will be passed back to them in its existing state or better when the tenancy ends.

Bare land is regularly marketed by land agents, but also privately on the internet and even on internet auction sites. Before you decide to buy bare land as the foundation of your smallholding, though, consider these issues.

Real tasty ripe tomatoes

Off-site housing may be a cheap option, and indeed we have friends who live two miles from their 21-acre holding. They have a few agricultural buildings on site to house their livestock and equipment, and there’s an office in one of the buildings with a wood-burner, toilet, and kitchen facilities. But security is a major issue, and they have security cameras which can send pictures to their mobile phone. It’ll do, just; but as their profits increase they are looking to get permission to build an agricultural dwelling on site.

Agricultural Occupancy Conditions (AOC).
If you see a holding with or without buildings on the market for significantly less than it ought to command, it may well be subject to an AOC. AOC dwellings are priced at roughly a third less than they would be otherwise because most buyers can’t or simply won’t accept the concomitant restrictions and as a result the market for subject properties is much weaker. But don’t be led astray by the low price: there is a corresponding problem with raising loans on a subject property, and many mortgage lenders will demand a very substantial deposit. There are other drawbacks to the AOC too, which are examined in the appendix of this book.

Tempted? You can read more over the next few months or buy Lorraine Turnbull’s book The Sustainable Smallholders’ Handbook available here on pre-order with 25% off

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