Date: 6th March 2018
Venue: Farmers & Fletchers' Hall
Farmers & Fletchers Hall is full to hear Alastair Martin address the Livery at the March luncheon
There was a very good atmosphere in and around Farmers and Fletchers Hall on March 6th 2018 as the Company and guests gathered for luncheon that followed a meeting of then Court of Assistants at the Hall in the morning.
The reception area buzzed and the champagne flowed as the Company, blessed with fine weather for the luncheon day, after the previous week's heavy and disruptive snowfalls, made the most of the opportunity to catch-up with colleagues and friends. It was good to see the luncheon so well attended and the Hall put to such good use. It is sometimes hard to remember just how significant the re-modelling of the Hall was and how much more enjoyable these occasions are within our new space - days like this act as a very positive reminder.
The Great Hall was full but not uncomfortable as we were greeted by the Master who updated the Company on his recent activities and forthcoming events and introduced everyone to our new Apprentice Mr Hamish Beaton. Special mention was made of the Agricultural Lecture and Dinner, which will take place on April 11th and for which the Master said only a small number of spaces remaining and of the recently launched WCF Alumni association which is now fully operational and in the process of recruiting members.
The Master then introduced his guest speaker Mr Alastair Martin the Secretary and Keeper of Records for the Duchy of Cornwall whose association with the Master gores back almost 40 years to the time they were both students at what was then the Royal Agricultural College. Mr Martin is a Chartered Surveyor with many years in private practice but who now looks after some 53,000 acres of land that stretches across 23 counties, mostly in the South west of England. The estate, set up in 1337 by Edward III to provide an income for the heir to the throne, now includes around 700 tenanted properties - which makes Mr Martin a very appropriate speaker to the Master's theme for the year The Future of Tenanted land in the UK post Brexit.
In his very interesting address Mr Martin referenced the often quoted decline in tenanted land which he said, in the early 1900s accounted for approximately ninety percent of the country's farmed, land area and today accounts for less than thirty percent. There have been, he pointed out, a whole series of legislative and fiscal changes that have driven this decline - not the least being the shortening of the minimum FBC to just three years. These short tenancy agreements, he suggested, prevented the proper investment and management of tenanted farmland and the Duchy was itself committed to a much longer term attitude to its tenants. Often being prepared to forgo short term gain for long term value building and continuity.
Succession on farmed land is an issue, often driven by the problem of finding alternative accommodation for existing tenants to allow their offspring to take on the main farm. The Duchy he said had an active programme of building to provide alternative accommodation and to allow the smooth succession between generations on the estate.
Mr Martin concluded with a call to all landowners to recognise that tenant farming was an essential element in effective land use and to consider as the Duchy does extending tenancy agreements to make farming investment viable, to recognise that many tenanted units might only be viable as part-time units and to look to provide suitable alternative accommodation for existing tenants to allow natural succession.
Following the address by Mr Martin, the Master introduced a special guest for the day, Miss Christiana Wyly-Musk, who he said had travelled from her native Texas to be with us, in order to receive the award of the WCF 2018 prize for the Outstanding Student at the City of London University.
Last, but by no means least, the Company was addressed by Group Captain Tom Burke, Station Commander at our affiliated RAF station RAF Waddington. The Captain gave a very interesting and amusing overview of activities at the station, which is now operating at full capacity following a long period of restricted operations, while the runway was resurfaced.
There is a Livery visit to the station later in March, when we are hoping to attend the briefing of the Red Arrows, who are these days stationed at Waddington - the presentation by Captain Burke acted as a very pleasant appetite wetter for this event.