As you are hopefully now aware, Timothy Lea & Griffiths Estate Agents Ltd., have merged with Sheldon Bosley Knight. During the negotiations, I was asked “What do you do?”. I gave the usual blurb about being a RICS accredited valuer, specialising in commercial and residential property, and then threw away the comment, “And I also act as a Horticultural Surveyor!” Blank looks across the table, and then I was asked to explain what I do.
Well, where do you start? You could say the industry covers 174,120 hectares of land, produces in excess of £3.101 billion a year, of which £1.277 billion was generated by vegetable production, but that wouldn’t really get me anywhere. So as ever in my life, let’s start with the basics, a definition.
Horticulture: – The art of garden cultivation. It covers field scale vegetable production, protected cropping, whether it be glasshouses, or tunnels for crops such as tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers. It also covers ornamental cropping, such as annual bedding, hardy ornamental plant production, trees and forestry. It also incorporates top and soft fruit production, garden centres and plant centres, formal parks, sports grounds, including golf courses. In fact, Horticulture covers virtually every facet of life where plants exist.
Whatever it is, it all has one thing in common, it happens on land, in buildings, or glasshouses. It is a very diverse industry, that can look extremely complicated if one looks in from the outside with limited knowledge. It is also a very dynamic industry which is changing rapidly to stay in business where energy costs are rocketing in price, and labour is becoming increasingly scarce. They also have very demanding clients, such as supermarkets, where “just in time” is considered a way of life.
Modern greenhouses are virtually cathedrals specialising in the worship of plants. Golf courses are well known for their greens, using varieties of grass specifically bred by the Grassland Institute at Hurley. Garden Centres are also becoming increasingly sophisticated emporiums of retail outlets, almost replicating the old department stores. Once you look inside this industry, you will be staggered at the diversity you will find. But a word of warning, it is a marmite industry, you will either love it or hate it.
As a surveyor, over the years, I have dealt with virtually every type of production there is to deal with, except for a cave! You will then ask, what is a cave used for? The answer is easy; mushroom production. I have however dealt with mushroom farms, using tunnels, but then these are artificial caves, high humidity environments with little light.
The skills of a commercial surveyor are all utilised within the industry; valuation for secured lending purposes, landlord and tenant matters for garden centres and glasshouse nurseries. I also prepare schedules of condition and can give condition reports on what a nursery looks like, and how this affects its ability to produce plants and look after people while they visit or work within the property. I tend to go all over the country, as the industry is based nationwide, and every site I visit is different. There is always more than one way to skin a cat, to quote an old saying.
There are also loads of development opportunities available within Horticulture. Redundant farm buildings, opportunities for permitted development rights, or even a complete change of use to convert the nursery to a residential housing development. That can lead to substantial capital gains being made. Luckily, we have a large planning department within the firm that are good at optimising these possibilities.
I suspect you will hear a lot more about Horticulture over the coming months as Brexit unfolds. Only one politician has mentioned the words “food security”, but given that the UK import between 60% and 70% of all food we eat, I think the politicians will suddenly wake up to the fact that they have to keep the UK borders open, and working efficiently to ensure the nation is fed. Suddenly “just in time” takes on a completely different significance.
If you are running a land-based business, and require the services of a surveyor, please feel free to call our office, and discuss your requirements, whether it be agency, valuation, Landlord and Tenant matters, or management. I will do my best to help. As a company we exhibit at the Four Oaks trade show, and we regularly advertise in the trade press. Our telephone number is 01386 765700, and my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tony Rowland BSc(Hons) MSc MRICS