Northumberland is generally known, if known at all, as a sparsely populated county, on the way to Scotland with an interesting garden at Alnwick.
All of which is true, but while the county is low on population it is high in agricultural diversity.
In the north of the county there are the productive arable units of the east coast and Tweed Valley; mixed farming as the land rises from the coast and valleys, towards the middle of the county; and the large upland units of the Cheviots, into the borders.
Despite the diversity, virtually nothing is currently on the market to sell or to let.
The farm sizes are larger than average and many parts of the county remain quite feudal, with a number of large estates and many smaller ones, both of which contribute to the lack of movement in the farm and land market but also bring about a comfortable stability.
The lethargy in the market over the past few years, for which we have blamed the mid-term review and single farm payment, shows no sign of change and if opportunities are to arise they will be more likely in the rental market.
Clearly the SFP has put the brakes on most transactions and the continuing saga does not help to raise confidence, nor does it, however, seem likely to bring many farms to the market either to sell or to let, unless, there are circumstances such as retirement or restructuring.
There has been a small number of farms coming to the market over the past 12-18 months, all of which have sold in excess of the guide prices – £2700/acre for Grade 3 arable land and up to £5260/acre for whole farms.
Smiths Gore recently undertook the letting of a 2500-acre hill farm and there was a high level of interest producing a number of potential tenants.
The rents tendered were at a sensible level between £7500 and £20,000 and, contrary to what we hear is happening in other parts of the country, the landlord did not end up paying the tenant in return for satisfying cross compliance.
It is reassuring that there is optimism, from within the farming community, about the future of hill farming.
There is no real indication that the interest in renting farms is falling.
The demand to purchase is high, but supply low, indicating either an optimism for the future through the reluctance to move on or retire, or a feeling that crying wolf now will fall on deaf ears.
As ever, paddocks continue to make a premium, typically £10,000/acre as an average.
These sales are usually connected to the residential and equestrian market where the uplift in value of the whole justifies the high value.
This makes the sale attractive to the farmer, particularly where he may have sold the farm steading for development and retained the land waiting for just such an event to occur.
There are no indications that there will be any flow of farms onto either the sale or rental market or that land prices will fall.
Undoubtedly the single farm payment has led to more uncertainty but this is in an already uncertain and changing industry, which is leading farmers to become more determined to stay put.