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From tenant to owner: a landownership journey

Published: 15th March 2024

Hertfordshire farmer Robert Law wanted to gain the freedom and security of full farm ownership. With support from AMC, he purchased the land on which he’d been a sitting tenant for 22 years.

Robert Law

A first-generation farmer, Robert Law fell in love with farming when he took a school holiday job at a farm near Royston. This early enthusiasm led him to Harper Adams Agricultural College, then to studying farming in Australia and New Zealand, before returning to his native Hertfordshire to take up his first role as a farm manager.

Today Robert runs an operation at Thrift Farm, Royston, that includes arable, sheep and cattle farming, a caravan site with full utilities, and even a bookable event space.

Yet there exists a longevity challenge around maintaining small and medium-sized farms via leasehold and contract agreements. Tenant farmers know they have less to leave to future generations when they’re paying rent on their land – and with just 13 years left in his 35-year tenancy, Robert didn’t want to leave his daughters with complex legal wrangling to maintain the tenancy.

Two decades worth of diversifying the farm’s revenue, however, meant that Robert was in a good position to make the next move - full ownership of the 1043-acre site.

Robert Law

Structuring the deal

He approached AMC who were happy to provide a long-term, variable rate loan. Negotiations with the Trust and a sub-sale to two of Robert’s neighbours (one of whom he then leased back from) took a little over a year.

Robert first worked with AMC 36 years ago: “I value AMC’s personal service, approachability, and thoroughness, as well as the security their financing provided,” he says. From AMC’s perspective, the deal was one they felt confident in making. “Robert was one of our high value customers,” says Declan Wilson, Regional Agricultural Manager, AMC. “We look to price deals at the best possible rate for our clients. We analysed Robert’s cash surplus and were able to add back in the rent that was being saved. That went some way to mitigating the extra debt costs.”

During the process of structuring the bid, the investment Robert required increased from £3.5 million to £4 million. He arranged for his sub-buyers to increase their offers, paid off another mortgage with savings, and sold a farmhouse. Still, he needed AMC to commit to the additional 12.5%.

AMC were able to increase the loan amount to ensure that the deal went through on a 20-year loan at a fixed rate. After a 12-month process, Robert purchased the property in August 2023 at 60% of market value.

He says: “I left the farm one evening as tenant and drove back there the next morning as landlord.”

Generational farming

The new land purchase cements an almost four-decade long relationship between Robert and AMC, showing that continuity and trust remain as valuable in finance as they are in farming. “That’s the best thing about this job,” adds Declan. “Over time I get to see how our support can have a really positive impact.”

Looking to the future, Robert’s passion for conservation will keep him occupied alongside his work at Thrift Farm. He recently restored the neighbouring woodland of Therfield Heath, a large tract of species-rich chalk grassland. Part-funded by the English Woodland Grant Scheme, the project involved the replanting of 26 acres and the coppicing of 12 additional acres, including permissive paths and interpretation boards.

As for the business of the farm itself, it seems likely his youngest daughter, who is currently finishing the final year of a degree in farm business management, will continue the family’s farming tradition in Hertfordshire one day – now free of any future ‘complex legal wrangling.’

Tractor in a field

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