Standing still isn't an option for Cereals co-host
Published: 26 May 2016
Coming from a non-agricultural background, first generation farmer, Robert Law, started his career in 1981 as a manager on the farm he now owns. Today he is farming more than 2,000 hectares of land – much of which he has purchased using a series of AMC loans – and will co-host the Cereals event for the third time later this year.
As a first generation farmer, Robert Law's initial interest in farming was ignited at the age of 13 when his father arranged work experience for him on the mixed farming enterprise at Thrift Farm near Royston in Hertfordshire.
The time he spent on the arable, sheep and beef farm made him realise what he wanted to do later in life, and he subsequently studied at Harper Adams and spent a year working on farms in Australia and New Zealand. He returned to the UK in 1981 to become farm manager at Thrift Farm before entering into a share farming agreement and subsequently farming in partnership with the farm's owner.
In 1987 Robert took out an AMC loan to buy his business partner out and took ownership of Thrift's 287 hectares of sheep and arable land.
"They are hands-down the best in terms of long-term fixed rate loans and are quick to approve new loan applications,"
Today Robert farms approximately 1,600 hectares on the Hertfordshire, Essex and Cambridgeshire borders and manages a further 485 hectares in Nottinghamshire, growing arable crops and keeping a flock of 2,100 ewes. He also manages a family estate in Scotland where Blackface sheep and Highland cattle graze alongside Grouse, moorland and forestry.
"Farming on such a large scale means my days are typically filled with the tasks of managing staff and making sure all the farm's paperwork and administrative affairs are in order," Robert explains. "My days of driving tractors are behind me, but my passion for the industry is stronger than ever."
Robert's over-arching philosophy is that 'to stand still in business is to go backwards'. "My aim at the end of each year is to be farming more land than at the year's start, whether through shared farming agreements, joint ventures, farm tenancies or land purchases," he explains. In order to achieve that goal, the farm business relies heavily on being able to borrow at competitive lending rates.
First generation farmer, Robert Law, has used AMC to fund several land purchases and now farms in excess of 2,000 hectares.
"I have used AMC since the late 1980s to fund various land purchases because they are the specialists in financing agricultural land acquisitions," Robert continues. "They offer extremely good margins and, while some high street banks have only been able to offer me five or 10 year loan terms, AMC are happy to lend on a much longer basis. They are hands-down the best in terms of long-term fixed rate loans and are quick to approve new loan applications."
Robert also cites AMC's 'lend and leave' approach as a reason for his long relationship with the organisation. "Their initial loan application assessment goes into forensic detail to ensure there are no untoward issues linked to the land they are lending against and to make sure there's enough asset security within the business to cover the loan," he describes. "But after that initial assessment, they don't bother us with requests for annual accounts and leave us alone to get on with the business of farming.
"We've tended to take loans on a 50:50 variable versus fixed rate basis, to hedge against interest rate rises. In hindsight, with such low base rates for the past few years, that has not necessarily been the correct thing to do. But we have previously been exposed to interest rates of 17% or more, so we tend to err on the side of caution by fixing half of the loan amount. That way, we know more or less what our bank outgoings will be each year."
Robert will co-host the Cereals event for the third time, adding a valuable extra income stream to his farm's business.
More recently, Robert has opened an AMC Flexible Facility account. "Last year we took 360 acres on a farm business tenancy agreement and purchased a neighbouring farm of 125 acres. We've had to pay the rent, interest and input costs on that land, but won't see any return until after this summer's arable harvest. We've therefore used the Flexible Facility account to finance the working capital of the extra land and to tide us over until the Rural Payments Agency finally gets organised and sees fit to pay us. It's a more cost-effective solution than having to rely on a traditional overdraft facility."
This year Robert will again co-host the Cereals event (he has previously co-hosted in 2010 and 2014) and relishes the challenge that such a large event brings. "Having already co-hosted the event twice before, we now know what we're letting ourselves in for. There is a lot of hard work involved in getting the fields in shape and maintaining access gates and tracks but it gets easier with each subsequent event.
"We are the local face for the event and liaise with residents over potential traffic delays and road closures. We treat each time we co-host the event as a real bonus because it fits with our rotation and brings valuable extra income from the farm's poorest land. It has been a privilege to be able to contribute to such a well attended and upbeat industry event."