8 March 2002

Keen interest expected in heart of whisky land

By Andrew Shirley

CLOSE proximity to a distillery may not always be conducive to productivity, but on one northerly Scottish farm to be sold soon it provides a welcome boost to the bottom line.

With numerous whisky manufacturers on its doorstep, Hilton Farm, a 450-acre, predominantly IACS-registered unit, near Buckie, on the Moray coast, is ideally situated to supply spring malting barley direct to the nearby maltings at Portgordon.

Owner Andrew Shepherd reckons he has been receiving a £22/t premium over feed wheat. An efficient grain drying and storage system also allows the barley to be kept back if prices look likely to improve later in the season.

Dark grain, a by-product of the malting process, helps further by trimming costs for the farms closed Aberdeen-Angus herd. "In terms of feed value it works out cheaper than barley," notes the farmer. The beef is sold under the Scotbeef Glenbervie label to Sainsbury, fetching an average price of over 200p/kg.

Selling agent Smiths Gore is launching the farm at the end of March, and, including an extremely well-decorated, four-bedroomed house with attractive views across the Moray Firth, will be asking for offers over £800,000. Jamie Watson, who is handling the sale, says this values the land at £1800/acre.

A separate four-bedroomed cottage is on offer for £55,000.

Mr Watson believes the farm is an ideal family-sized unit which offers plenty of flexibility. Land for potatoes can be rented to growers for around £200/acre, he notes, adding that there is also strong demand in the area for winter sheep grazing which can fetch up to 50p/ewe per week.

For the current season, about half the farm will be sown to spring malting barley with the remainder registered as set-aside. The agent says this will give any purchaser a number of options. "The land could be left in set-aside or withdrawn and put down to cattle."

Because much of the local land is owned by large estates, such as the Crown, he says it is fairly uncommon for farms in the area to come up for sale. This could help stimulate demand from Scottish buyers as well as those from south of the border or across the Irish Sea.

Hilton is coming to the market because Mr Shepherd, an accountant by day and farmer by night, is relocating to his firms Edinburgh office, which he feels is too far away to allow day-to-day running of the holding. But the family is not turning its back on farming and will continue to rent another 725-acre farm in the district from the Crown Estate. &#42