The popularity of farmland as an investment is confirmed by the dramatic rise in values around the world. South America and Central Europe have seen the biggest increases in land values, with Romania recording a 1,817% rise between 2002 and 2010.
EU entry promoted the dramatic increase in Central European countries, with access to farm payments and capital improvement grants pushing up values. Some of these countries have reduced – but not yet fully removed – restrictions on foreign ownership to farmland, said Savills, which collated the figures for its Global Farmland Index.
This shows farmland in Brazil and Argentina also strengthening significantly, albeit from a low base. In 2002 about $324 bought an acre of land in Brazil, but the same land in 2010 cost $5,200. Legislation to limit the scope of foreign investment has slowed growth rates recently, but they continue upwards, said Ken Jones, director of International Farmland Markets with Savills.
Argentina strictly limits foreign ownership to 2,500 acres, while the regime in Brazil is less stringent.
Overall, growth over the same period has been more muted in Germany, the USA, France, Denmark, Ireland and Canada, after a period of accelerated growth and corrections in Northern Ireland, Ireland and Denmark.
Denmark and France still restrict foreign ownership and large-scale farming opportunities are rare in Ireland, making these countries less attractive to investors.
Farmland values across the world had continued growing since 2010, said Mr Jones.
“Capital growth is rarely the only determining factor for farmland investment and while significant growth rates have been recorded in many of the emerging markets, these need to be set in the context of the opportunities to maximise income return.
“In more developed economic areas yields range annually between 1.5-4%, but in emerging investment areas 5-8% is more typical.”
The UK has seen eight-year growth of more than 200%, while cropping land values in the USA increased on average by 75% between 2002 and 2010. “The UK and the USA still represent good places for farmland investment, although the UK proposition is weakened by farm scale and low turnover,” said Savills.
Australia and New Zealand recorded rates of growth of 300% and 262% respectively, with the large-scale farming opportunities they offer being a key driver, especially in Australia.
“However, location is critical, with the best opportunities requiring adequate rainfall or water, good soils and infrastructure. Australia also scores well in terms of political and economic stability and there is a good volume of land traded annually.”
Africa has high growth potential in the agricultural sector, but also high risks and challenges, which include land tenure and poor infrastructure.