AS Coronavirus still dominates the whole country, Thomas Armstrong Director for H&H Land and Estates, based in Carlisle, is encouraging farmers to evaluate their businesses and consider new opportunities

“The country is taking an enforced pause, this is more relevant for some sectors than others, but even as an essential service, we would highly recommend farmers taking the opportunity to assess their business as there is more time to do this as our social lives have been somewhat curtailed!”

If you are finding yourself worrying about your financial position as a result of these uncertain times, consider if you can utilise any of the Government support such as the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, VAT deferral or business rates grants. There is plenty of help out there and the sooner you understand what it available to you and your business, the sooner you can put the safety net in place. If you have finance in place that you won’t be able to cover, get in touch with your lender early and you might find a much more sympathetic ear given the circumstances.

If saving money is your current focus, the reduction in bank of England base rate to support the economy, with the base rate now being at an all-time UK low of 0.1 percent, is both unprecedented and extremely good news. It will have had an immediately positive effect on reducing costs of existing borrowing (on variable rates) for many businesses, which will be welcomed.

The reduction in base rate has also had a knock on effect to underlying cost of funds for fixed rates also, where rates have also fallen. It seems likely that underlying interest rates will have to be kept low for some time to help the economy recover after the crisis and so opportunity may exist to lock into some exceptional low rates for planned expenditure, where that expenditure and borrowing is well planned and the business can safely service the debt.

With the property market in lockdown for the foreseeable future, mortgage companies have a gap in their business that needs filling so finance should be forthcoming.

Aside of addressing your finances, it is also worth having a mini-audit of your business. Use this time wisely to reflect on what works on your farm and what doesn’t. Think about where you ideally want to be and benchmark against other farm businesses. If you want to expand, do your research now. If you are interested in diversification, now is the time to plan.

Thinking beyond Covid-19, and we all need to be able to think positively, ask yourself is this the right time for me to diversify my business? Do you have a barn ripe for conversion to sell on or as a holiday let for extra income? Do you have commercial or storage units that could be put to another use to help the bottom line? Could you provide equine livery? Do you have a field perfect for campers?

Take the time to do that long overdue equipment inventory and check everything is in working order. If not, allow for some essential maintenance and remedial works to be done or sell it! As health and safety takes on a very different focus amidst a pandemic, do some health and safety risk assessments of your own on the farm and put in place any corrective actions.

If you have land that has development potential, take advice now on whether it is suitable for residential or commercial development.