Irish

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Land prices to rise further but Budget taxes hit farm transfers

Published 13/12/2012 | 05:00

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The IFA mounted the obligatory protest outside the Department of Agriculture this week in the wake of the cuts to the agriculture budget.

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But when the dust settles, the agri-sector can content itself this Christmas with the fact that it got off relatively lightly in the Budget.

There will always be losers in these austerity budgets, but relatively speaking, farmers have been shielded from the worst of the cuts.

But the real legacy of the tax changes may only materialise with the passing of time.

Both Capital Gains and Capital Acquisitions taxes were increased from 30pc to 33pc. In addition, the relief thresholds were reduced by 10pc to €225,000 for parent to child gifts or inheritance.

Neither of these changes will overly worry most farming families at the moment. A good 160-acre farm valued at €10,000 per acre along with stock, machinery and a house would not breach €2.25m in most cases.

This means the reduced threshold of €225,000 will still be enough to shelter the next generation from any capital taxes, regardless of whether they are 30pc or 33pc.

However, it would not take much of a jump in land values over the coming years to tip this farm into a serious tax liability situation.

Bucked

Bear in mind that land prices have bucked the trend in property values here over the last three years. After a correction in 2008-2009, land prices have steadied, if not increased. In 2012, it's estimated that agricultural land was making an average of €10,000 per acre.

The reason that land has outperformed almost every other property class here since the bust is that farming has been doing quite nicely, thank you very much.

The most startling proof of this was last week's CSO release on farming. It showed that farm-gate sales have broken new records this year, hitting €6.9bn.

This was significant given the disastrous weather conditions that prevailed this summer. So while farm incomes are back 12pc on last year, they are still ahead of the long- term average.

The future prospects look good too. The abolition of milk quotas will probably see a 40pc increase in Irish dairy output by 2020.

That's good news for the food sector in general, but it's particularly good news for farming, since dairying is by far the most profitable enterprise for the majority of Irish farmers.

Challenges

Sure, there'll be challenges finding good markets for all this extra milk. But the global population is projected to grow by two billion by 2050 and the world's new middle classes are all seemingly hell-bent on adopting many elements of the western diet. Therefore finding a home for extra dairy product shouldn't be an issue, whatever about the price.

So my money is on land prices to rise further. But this is where the Budget changes could cost farm families a lot of dough.

At a land price of €12,000 per acre, that 160-acre farm I referred to above would be liable to over €100,000 in capital taxes if transferred from parent to child.

Regardless of how well farming is doing, six-figure tax liabilities are going to make farm transfers a very unpalatable task.

In a sector where there are more farmers aged over 80 than under 35, that's not going to be good news.

In fact, it's not hard to see how the increases in Capital Gains Taxes could be a ticking timebomb for many family- owned businesses in the future.

The transfer of these to the next generation has never been an easy task. But, if these new capital tax rates and thresholds become the new norm, I reckon it just got a whole lot harder.

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