16 February 1996

Bargain acres in UKcatch the European eye

By Louise Rose

DESPITE recent rises in UK farmland values most European land is still currently achieving considerably more per acre than the UK equivalent making it an attractive investment to overseas buyers.

Figures from Brussels suggest UK land in 1994 averaged £2350/acre compared with £6200/acre in the Netherlands, £5200/acre in Germany and £4000/acre in Belgium.

However Tony Morris-Eyton of agents Knight Frank says "Farms tend to average between 80 and 100 acres on the Continent and this smaller unit size may distort any direct comparison with the UK."

Most of the new interest in the UK market has been from private individual German buyers looking for a large farm either to manage themselves or under a contract farming arrangement.

"Around Hamburg in Germany, 500 acres is viewed as a big unit and with the exception of eastern Germany, it is almost impossible to buy over 500 acres in Europe," he says.

Savills agent Crispin Holborrow identifies two types of foreign buyer. "They either want a sporting property or are looking for a commercial unit to strengthen their cattle breeding herds."

Those buying an amenity and sporting estate require good quality sporting and a manageable house – they often divide their time between here and elsewhere says the firms Justin Marking.

Demand for a commercial unit is led by continental pedigree cattle breeders who have buyers here and by owning a farm in the UK can avoid the transportation of breeding stock.

Also added benefits include favourable exchange rates, some useful tax advantages and the ability to move money in and out of the country quite easily.

Foreign buyers

Michael Fiddes of agents Strutt & Parker also identifies some strong foreign buying power with overseas money often successfully purchasing the larger units available.

"In the long term, the differential between UK and other European land values could reduce if the current demand for agricultural land here remains," says Knight Franks Steve Humphris.

&#8226 Agricultural land values in France remain nearer UK levels according to Savills research averaging £2300-2500/acre. Jim Ward says that due to the lower population density there than in say the Netherlands the pressures on any land available to buy are considerably lower.