The Crown Estate has confirmed its purchase of the 2337-acre Ashby St Ledgers estate in Northamptonshire for a price believed to be close to its 10m guide.

In what will go down as one of the key acquisitions of 2005, it is the latest deal in the implementation of the Crown Estate’s investment strategy.

This seeks to maximise the potential of existing core holdings, while making “judicious disposals and acquisitions” to secure good long-term financial performance across its 5 billion portfolio.

Ashby St Ledgers lies between Daventry and Rugby and belonged to the second generation of one of the most entrepreneurial farming families in the UK.

A generation ago, Fred Baker turned a small butchers and slaughterhouse into the multi-million pound Baker Group of companies, which included Midland Meat Packers.

Mr Baker’s entrepreneurial legacy, including selling organic milk direct from the estate, had been continued by his sons. Selling agent Strutt & Parker, which was involved in the management, had also highlighted further potential for development.

The estate includes both conventional and organic arable land, as well as organic and conventional dairy units.

The Crown has also taken over the organic dairy herd.

A fishing lake, woodland, 11 residential properties and a game business marketing under the Ashby St Ledgers brand were also part of the package.

Meanwhile, the Crown Estate has just sold around 1750 acres of land from its Ewerby Estate in Sleaford, Lincolnshire, as part of the rebalancing of its rural portfolio.

The majority of Ewerby Thorpe and Six Hundred Farms, Heckington, sold for close to the 2000-2300/acre guide price, which did not include entitlement to historic single farm payments.

Carter Jonas advised the Crown Estate on both agricultural deals.

Christopher Bourchier, director of the Crown’s rural estate, said, “The Crown Estate is committed to remaining a long-term rural land owner.

The diverse Ashby St Ledgers Estate represents the type of deal that will deliver good long-term performance potential.”

Further sales and acquisitions are planned on the rural estate, as well as continuing inward investment in new enterprises on existing estates, which include over 300,000 acres of agricultural land in England, Scotland and Wales.

catherine.paice@ifbn.co.uk