7 August 1998

Grade 2 soil is variable and so hard to fathom

By Catherine Paice

LAND classified grade 2 by the Ministry of Agriculture is attracting a wide range of prices and demand throughout the eastern counties.

Fenland encompasses such a spectrum of depths and soil types that it requires something of a connoisseur to make sense of the market, let alone farm the land. For whatever reason, 715-acre Bridge Farm at Stoke Ferry on Northwold Fen in Norfolk, is only a few miles from coveted Methwold soil but is still looking for a buyer. The guide has been £1.7m (£2378/acre).

"There havent been many people wanting to come into the area, and we are now offering it as an investment property, to be farmed by the vendor, based on a return of around 4.5% to 5% on the IACS acres," says Jonathan Fryer of Cruso & Wilkin.

"There is still a lot going on, but more seems to be happening privately. I think that people have always known if a next door farm would like to buy them, and they are prepared to do an acceptable deal rather than incur marketing costs and exposure."

Cruso & Wilkin will nevertheless be marketing several grade 2 farms over the next couple of weeks.

Among them is 328-acre Catchetts Farm, Wood Norton, near Fakenham. Mainly arable, with a three-bedroom house and 700t grain store, it is growing wheat and barley in what Mr Fryer calls "a rural part of Norfolk".

Sporting rights are included in a guide price likely to be around £1.1m (£3353/acre).

Pleasant setting

A pleasant setting for the house will also be a key factor in the sale of 128-acre Stud Farm, at Terrington St John, between Wisbech and Kings Lynn. Early indications are that the farm will come to the market with a range of modern and traditional buildings on combineable crop land classified on the border of grades 1 and 2.

"These farms are being priced to sell," says Mr Fryer. "I think it will be a busy autumn, because people are now starting to take decisions about what they want to do."

One big shift, he says, is the realisation that a family farm, with one key worker, needed to be 500 to 800 acres, rather than the 300 to 500 acres long held to be viable.

Up round the Wash, and just off the fen, Pygott & Crone launched another grade 2 holding – Home Farm, Little Hale Fen, near Sleaford – at £3000/arable acre in June. Given the pressures on the market in the last couple of months, it has been encouraged by widespread, if tentative, interest in the farm. All but 95 of its 580 acres are arable, and the farm is offered only as a whole. Offers have been received but a closing date, August 14, is expected to draw the sale to a conclusion.

A retirement sale, Home Farms grade 2 land with a six-bedroom, period house, two cottages, and bin capacity for 1200t have attracted farmers from a good distance. Its a good commercial farm, said a spokesman, and rollover money continues to help bolster interest in commercial units. It is the first time the farm has been on the market for over 50 years.

This time last week, a 676-acre grade 2 farm at Comberton, a few miles west of Cambridge was under offer as a whole. Michael Alexander of Alexanders had every hope that contracts would be exchanged this week, which would close his sales book for the season so far.

Good interest

The guide for Northfield Farm was £2.345m, not far short of £3500/acre, but the farm attracted good interest. "Local factors are terribly important in this market," he said. "It might be the location, or the profitability of a crop grown, or the presence of rollover.

"But as long as you dont try and price a farm at last summers values, Ive found the interest is still there. Acting for sellers, I am relatively happy with the market and we have had some very good sales."

Catchetts Farm, with its grade 2 acres is expected to attract buyers.