17 May 1996

S midland melange…

By Catherine Paice

A SURGE of farms on to the market in the south midland counties gives a buyer more to choose from than any other region in the UK.

More than 4000 acres have just been, or are in the process of being, launched in Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire, Warwickshire and Northamptonshire. A number of other mid-sized farms are available privately as the owners test the market.

Strutt & Parker is offering one of the larger holdings, extending to 881 acres at Wolvey in Warwickshire, and is said to have another in the pipeline. Copston Lodge Farm is the only farm owned by the Coventry and East Mercia Co-operative Society. Bought in 1919 it was farmed in-hand until 1993, when CWS Agriculture was employed as contract farmer.

A principal farmhouse, four cottages and two bungalows north east of Coventry service productive, mainly grade 2 arable land, 781 acres of which is registered, and a well-equipped dairy unit with over 1.6m litres of quota. The combinable crops are rotated with four-year grass and silage leys.

"This is an excellent commercial farm in an accessible location," said Mark McAndrew at S&Ps London office. "There is a lack of genuine, good-sized farming opportunities at present and we are hopeful of a strong level of interest." A guide price over £2.7m is quoted – over £3000/acre – excluding milk quota.

Savills will shortly be offering a particularly eye-catching proposition with the sale of Twyford Farms, a company tenancy on a 1037-acre arable/dairy unit at Aynho, Northants. Walton Grounds Farm is owned by Exeter College, Oxford – a long-term landowner which may finally provide the means for such a tenancy to be valued. Similar sales to date have tended to be embroiled in a landlord/tenant confrontation, with the tenancy ultimately sold back to the freeholder.

"We cant value the company, whose principal asset is the tenancy of the farm together with a pedigree Friesian herd, fixed equipment and 178,000 litres of milk quota," said Jeremy Rollason of Savills Banbury office, which carries a high proportion of the acreage coming on to the market. "We will look to the market to determine it."

The vendor is plant breeding company CPB (Twyford), for which the use of the farm for trial plots and seed production is now surplus to requirement. The use of a further 950,000 litres of quota is also available on the holding.

A few miles south east of Northampton, Grange Farm at Preston Deanery falls into the middle of the size range. It is a 481-acre commercial arable unit with the option to farm an extra 122 acres on the outskirts of Northampton on a farm business tenancy, the freehold of which is being retained in the belief there may be some future planning potential.

The farmhouse, with some appeal in a thin residential market is being lotted separately to five blocks of IACS-registered grade 2/3 clay loam over limestone, regularly achieving more than 3t/acre, and grain storage/handling facilities. A retirement sale, it values the land at around £2400/acre, about £1000/acre more expensive than it would have been three years ago at the bottom of the market. Total guide is £1.8m.

"Weve already had an offer at that level but we have decided to set a closing date at the end of the month," said Mr Rollason. "It is of a sufficient size as an arable unit for commercial farmers to be looking at the farm as a whole, although obviously there is local interest in parts of it as well."

Ten miles north of Banbury, Pitwell Farm at Byfield is half the size – 275 acres – but a range of enterprises probably offset this. Some 234 acres are registered, but there are 11 acres of apple orchards currently run as a pick-your-own business and the remainder is permanent pasture.

Again with a good size farmhouse, it carries a guide of £975,000-990,000, through Savills.

Further south, Lane Fox has launched a second Cotswold farm into the market, two weeks after offering 222-acre Frogmore Farm with two dwellings near Moreton-in-Marsh, and a £950,000 guide. With a stronger bent towards arable crops, Slade Barn Farm has a stone farmhouse and 176 acres near Winchcombe, between Stow on the Wold and Cheltenham. Its setting will add to its appeal, and the agents are asking £725,000.

A further test of the more residentially biased market will be Thatchmoor Farm, near Lichfield, Staffs. Here, with prices over £3000/acre regularly being achieved, the land will add more to the price. This 193-acre holding, mainly arable although it has grown potatoes, boasts three ranges of traditional buildings for residential conversion as well as a sizeable farmhouse.

Savills has been cautious on the land valuation, putting it around £2500/acre, but the addition of four conversions, put at £30,000 each, and the house add up to a £850,000 guide.

The availability of a wide range of units is likely to affect land prices, according to Mr Rollason. "The early market has done well, but with the supply increasing I dont think well continue to see the heady bidding we have seen in the past 12 months," he said.

More than 4000 acres have been, or are in the process of being, launched in Oxfordshire, Glos, Warwicks and Northants.