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Making an estate profitable.

For an estate to be profitable the local economy needs to thrive and people need to prosper, not just eke out an existence. There needs to be paid work for those who need it, agricultural and otherwise,  for the more fortunate who own a little bit of land there needs to be security of tenure, the rule of Law. There needs to be a market for what is produced locally, providing the incentive that even a small surplus can be turned into hard cash. This makes it worth a man's while to put in the extra time & effort. There needs to be peace and stability as ordinary people do remarkably badly out of war. This needs to be coupled with a system of taxation that is fair and not overburdening. There is no incentive to work hard, if any extra you make will all disappear in tax, but equally government, local as well as national needs enough tax income to provide whatever the society of the time deems essential. Whether it is a Navy to stop them being invaded or healthcare for the masses, it has to be paid for .

The traditional way of running an estate would have every last acre rented out to one farmer or another. Tenant farmers can n0t make much money, or can't be seen to, as otherwise the landlord would put the rent up. So the estate will be populated with fairly hard up tenant farmers and their families. The land itself that the tenants rent is probably of poor quality, having been used for farming for hundreds of years. Land can be improved and yields increased but this requires investment into decent drainage, sound hedgerows, manuring / liming the fields. Tenant farmers are not going to be making that investment, why pay to improve someone else land that you can be turfed off at your Landlord's whim.

 

As the estate owns nearly all of the land, there is nobody living in the area who actually has any money to spend so there is little economic activity , everybody just about gets by but there is no opportunity to better oneself. This situation can persist for years, centuries even, the local population are able to feed themselves, the Lord makes a bit of money from his estate,  if it is big enough, he will make a lot of money, but not as much as could be made. He will eye a friend with a similar sized estate but twice the income and wonder why.

He may notice that on his estate there is a monoculture, where he is the only landholder and the entire population are just about managing tenants. There is little traded at the local market as nobody has any spare cash to buy non essential things, so he makes little from the local tax. It is not worth craftsmen moving to the area or improving their skills, as there is nobody with any cash to sell to. There is no point in tenant farmers working extra hard to make a surplus, as there is nobody to sell it to and as discussed above, no incentive to improve the land. ( so apart from that, all is well and the estate continues)

On his friend's  estate there is a mixture of tenant farmers and those who own their own farms. These owners pay no rent so they have money to spend. They spend some of this by buying things made by local craftsmen who improve their skills and make more to sell. More goods are traded at the local market so the Lord gets more tax. The tenant farmers who may have a few hours spare can, if they want, sell a surplus at the market, or even sell their spare hours of labour to an owner-farmer who needs extra help at a busy time.  There is more economic activity making everyone better off from Lord down to peasant. This sounds great but how to make the transition?

The key to it is the mixed economy of owner and tenant farmers. There needs to be a way for a tenant farmer, who is able to raise the cash, to buy the freehold to his farm. Agriculture tends to be cyclical, when times are good some raise the cash and buy their farms.  When times are bad some of these may go tits up  and be bankrupted, but most will not, if you own a farm then you have collateral.

Selling off significant amounts of land all at once is clearly not the way to go. To maintain the land value there should not be too much on the market at any one time.What is needed is a means of gradually selling off parcels of land. A common way of doing this is to give the tenant an opportunity to buy the freehold each time a tenancy changes hands.

As regards the Seafield estate, they have permitted tenants to buy their freehold if they can raise the cash , under certain circumstances. Over the years a significant proportion of tenants have been in a position to take advantage of this and buy out their freehold. The estate has diversified in many other ways and has heavily invested into the local tourist industry. Many of the visitors centres, watersports facilities, way marked hiking trails and of course skiing infrastructure have come from their initiatives and frequently been financially supported by the Seafield Estate.

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